Facing a continued scourge of violence since cutting its police budget by $15 million last summer, Portland, Oregon, has decided to reintroduce a gun violence task force within the city’s police department.
What are the details?
The new team, called the Enhanced Community Safety Team, was introduced last month in response to skyrocketing violence in the city, KATU-TV reported, and comes only months since the city disbanded the Gun Violence Reduction Team as a part of police budget cuts.
Following the dissolution of the previous gun violence team, shootings in the city skyrocketed.
According to the Associated Press, “More people died of gunfire last year in Portland — 40 — than the entire tally of homicides the previous year. The number of shootings — 900 — was nearly 2 1/2 times higher than the year before.”
“The spike has continued this year, with more than 150 shootings, including 45 people wounded and 12 killed so far,” the AP added.
Many members of the community have squarely blamed the budget cuts, and specifically the dissolution of the GVRT, for the violence. Among them is Elmer Yarborough, a crisis response volunteer for Portland police who lost his nephew last year to gun violence only a month after the unit was disbanded.
“Without a doubt, I think it is a possibility that my nephew could still be alive if the GVRT was not dissolved,” Yarborough told the AP. “I cannot say for sure if he would, but what I will tell you is had it not been my nephew that was saved, it probably could have saved the life of someone else.”
Amazingly, the new unit was requested by Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as the city’s police commissioner. Wheeler had been outspoken in support of defunding the police as Black Lives Matter protests rocked the city for much of the last year.
Yet despite now acknowledging in practice that the city’s defund the police movement was ultimately an abject failure, in January, Wheeler refused to admit as much.
“I believe if the GVRT were [around] today, we would still see a substantial, if not identical increase, in shootings in Portland,” he reportedly argued. “This is clearly part of a larger national trend.”
Others strongly disagreed with the mayor, including many within the police department who warned that cutting the police budget would only lead to more crime.
“I’d say they’re more emboldened, maybe, to be out with guns,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said last August. “They know there’s not someone watching. There’s no real deterrent there. And I think that’s part of the issue that’s causing us to see the spike we have in July.”
Then in a statement to the AP, Portland police quoted former Salinas, California, Police Chief Kelly McMillin, saying, “Not to be overly dramatic, but if you lose the unit which focuses on removing firearms from the hand of violent offenders, people will die. It’s really just that simple.”