PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the gun violence problem continues to grow in Portland, city leaders have been meeting to discuss possible solutions to address what some are calling a “public health issue.”
Portland has seen its biggest single-year increase in gun violence on record, but it’s not alone. Several other cities across the U.S. are also seeing an astronomical rise in gun violence, said Dr. Jonathan Jay, an urban health expert from Boston University during Monday’s work session.
At the meeting, city leaders considered possibly declaring a “state of emergency” for the crisis.
The presentation, facilitated by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, was the latest in a series of meetings Hardesty has organized since last fall to address gun violence by treating it as a public health issue.
At the forum, Mayor Ted Wheeler noted that the communities most affected by the rise in violence in 2020 were minorities.
“Forty one people were shot to death,” he said. “Fully half of the people killed were Black.”
Wheeler added that stressors related to the pandemic have likely fueled the increase.
Hardesty has urged multiple times that she doesn’t want the city to be “over-relying on police to mitigate gun violence.”
But just last week, Portland Police Bureau added the “Enhanced Community Safety Team” to investigate shootings in Portland.
One Portland resident said he would prefer to see more police presence. Edward Tylicki, who has lived in Portland for 32 years, said he was in his kitchen when he heard gunshots from Saturday’s shooting in Fremont.
The shooting, which occurred at Northeast 54th Avenue and Northeast Fremont Street left one dead and one wounded. Police are still investigating the incident.
“I’ve lived here 32 years and this is the worst I’ve seen Portland,” Tylicki said. “We need more police. We need more police on the streets, it’s getting worse.”
Tylicki said that while he agrees with police reform, he’s dubious defunding the police is realistic for Portland.
“We have a crime problem that’s out of control,” he said. “For the first time in Portland, I don’t feel safe. It’s scary.”
Tylicki said he was encouraged however when he met with PPB’s new Enhanced Community Safety Team shortly after Saturday’s shooting.
In a January interview with KOIN 6 News, Hardesty said she was “heartbroken” to see so many people lose their lives to gun violence, adding that she has spent a lot of time mothers and grandmothers who have lost their children to gun violence.
But she urged against the “knee-jerk reaction” of adding more police to address the problem like the city has done in years past.
“We had a lot of police for a lot of years with the gang enforcement unit and … over 50% of their stops were African Americans in a city with a 6% African American population,” she said.