PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With nine shootings in the last two days, Portland police said they plan to move resources to help stop the surge in violence.
For now, the Portland Police Bureau will focus on patrolling the streets, though it believes a long-term solution will require a community-wide effort. So far, Portland has seen more than 80 shootings since the start of 2021, including one on Thursday evening in which a driver involved in a head-on crash shot a bystander as he fled the scene in North Portland.
In an interview with KOIN 6 News on Friday, Portland Police Sgt. Kevin Allen said that while the bureau believed the Gun Violence Reduction Team “was effective,” the bureau needs “to pivot” now that it’s been dissolved.
“We want to find a way to have an impact on the shootings without relying on any one solution,” he said. “It is something that needs a full community solution.”
Allen also noted officers dedicated to other focuses, such as organized crime and narcotics, are being diverted to patrols as part of the effort to combat the recent uptick in violence in Portland but he warned that it will impact how the bureau is able to respond to other issues.
“The shootings that are happening right now are a huge priority for the city and a huge priority for us,” he said. “But we also have a lot of other priorities, like traffic safety and community engagement. And a lot of other things that we want to do that we consider important as well.”
Brian Hunzeker, the president of the Portland Police Association, said the city’s short-term solution to put more officers on the streets won’t solve the uptick in gun violence. He referenced a case this week in which a suspected DUII driver caused two crashes within a span of three days in Portland.
“You know who investigates that? The traffic division,” Hunzeker said. “You know who finds DUII drivers off the road and holds them accountable? The traffic division. To move them off the street in the capacity in a city this size is absolutely just ridiculous.”
Hunzeker believes rehiring retired officers is the most effective way to get the results city leaders are wanting.
“There’s a very logical and real — a small solution right in front of them, one we already have in our contract: a retire-rehire program,” he said. “All those officers that left in August to January, the numbers that we would’ve lost anyway, all they have to do is call them and ask them ‘will you come back.'”
Hunzeker said there are 70 to 100 officers who retired in that time frame who could be called back to the bureau. Doing so, in his opinion, makes sense because those officers have already been trained, they have their uniforms and are ready to go compared to taking on brand new recruits who need 18 months of training.
“There’re 22 traffic officers that are moving from traffic to the street to fix the problem. What if you got 20 people out of the last 100 that retired to come back?” Hunzeker proposed. “It’s literally a resource they’re not tapping into, it’s a very easy fix.”
Allen also revealed the police bureau is holding off on hiring until the end of the fiscal year in June at the earliest. The bureau has a number of openings due in part to a slew of resignations and retirements at the end of 2020, KOIN 6 News media partner The Portland Tribune reported last year.
Allen said the application process is open to those potentially interested but he added, “I don’t think that there’s any plan to hire new officers until we can get through this budget cycle.”
In the meantime, Hunzeker said he doesn’t think Portland residents who worry they’ll be the next victim of a gun crime are being heard by city leaders.
“The community needs to be more vocal to the leaders. There are very simple solutions to this: we need to invest in the police,” he said. “The number one core value of a police officer is to protect life, safety. These gun violence crimes will continue to kill members of our community — our most vulnerable people will die — and there are ways to solve that, there are ways to reduce it.”