PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland’s newest City Commissioner Mingus Mapps is heartbroken by the rate of gun violence that’s nearly doubled over the past year.

Portland has seen a total of 87 shootings — including five that were fatal — since the start of 2021, compared to 51 shootings during the same period last year, according to police.

A spate of shootings that stretched from Wednesday evening into Thursday morning left one person dead and another seriously wounded, not to mention the bullet holes left in occupied cars and homes. On Thursday night, a driver involved in a head-on crash shot a bystander as he fled the crash scene in North Portland, police said.

Mapps thinks the spike in gun violence is due to various reasons all rooted in the pandemic.

“First, we have COVID which has cut people off from economic opportunity,” he said. “COVID has also cut people off from educational opportunities; it’s cut people off from employment opportunities. And then you have to recognize the very nature of violence — it is literally contagious.”

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who was the driving force behind the vote to dissolve the Portland Police Bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team last July, also believes the increase in gun crimes is related to COVID-19. The GVRT came under fire for allegedly targeting members of the Black community. City councilors cut the GVRT, along with $15 million from the PPB’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Full interview with Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

“What we know is that historically in economic downturns, in economic devastation, the level of crimes go way up,” Hardesty said.

Hardesty and Mapps are joined by Mayor Ted Wheeler in believing the dramatic upswing in shootings isn’t unique to Portland.

Portland City Council candidate Mingus from his campaign website, May 13, 2020

“In the middle of a global pandemic, on the front edge of a deep recession with record unemployment, kids out of school, parents out of work, rent unpaid, and nowhere to go, the pressures we’re facing collectively and individually would have been unimaginable a year ago,” Wheeler said. “These pressures, and the lack of an effective federal safety net to relieve them, are contributing to the increase, and public health restrictions have limited our response toolkit.”

There are many things exacerbating the issue and complicating the path toward a solution. Mapps said the city needs to focus on the underlying causes of gun violence in order to effectively put a stop to it.

“I think we need to have a multi-pronged strategy, one which focuses in on enforcement, especially on issues surrounding guns,” he said. “We need to have cops at the table at the same time. As soon as a trigger has been pulled, it’s far too late — and I think that’s why we need to focus in on prevention programs.”

Full interview with Commissioner Mingus Mapps

One thing is clear: there is no quick fix. But the path toward making Portland a safer city for everyone can start right now.

“In terms of what we can do tonight, I think again as a community, double down on the message of peace and rejection of violence,” Mapps said. “A week from today, we really will be deploying our police force differently so they’ll be more cops on the streets and that will make a big difference.”

Mapps acknowledged that the PPB is dealing with staffing shortages unlike any experienced in nearly 30 years.