PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For Portland, 2021 was the most violent year on record, reaching the highest number of homicides in one year the city has ever documented.
The Portland Police Bureau said the city is closing out 2021 with 90 homicides, far surpassing its previous record of 66 set in 1987.
Anthony Johnson is one of the people feeling the effects of this violence firsthand. Police said someone shot and killed Johnson’s little brother, Michael, last week in Portland.
“I was like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it,'” Johnson said. “He was kind, he was compassionate. He always looked out for other people, sometimes more than himself.”
This week, Johnson pleaded for the killer to turn themselves in.
“When you take someone’s life, it destroys your life, their life, their family’s life,” he said. “You can’t even fathom when you take someone’s life how many people that impacts.”
Portland Police Bureau homicide detectives are overwhelmed with their staggering caseload — they said they have added eight detectives to their unit but are still drastically understaffed.
“We have bolstered our homicides unit, but just like with the FIT team, that means we have to take people from other places,” said Lt. Nathan Sheppard with PPB. “There have been less people to work things like property crimes. Everyone suffers.”
The Focused Intervention Team is PPB’s new group assigned to preventing shootings. Police said they’re now fully staffed and beginning training Jan. 6.
The Portland City Council disbanded the controversial Gun Violence Reduction Team in 2020, and Sheppard said this could be at least partly to blame.
“Crime has risen everywhere, but here, it’s been at historic levels,” he said. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t say there were some clear consequences to getting rid of our team that addressed gun violence.”
But City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said in April she didn’t think getting rid of the team caused the spike in shootings.
“It is a totally unrelated issue,” Hardesty said. “The police have a role, but their role is simply to solve crime. Their role is not to prevent crime, their role is not to intervene.”
In October, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he wished he had more support from city hall to fund and staff police.
“I’d hoped I would have council’s support prior to last summer when I brought a community lead proposal forward,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t have the support then but I have the support now.”
Ultimately, Commissioner Hardesty and the other commissioners unanimously voted to direct millions in funding to the bureau in November.