Local and federal law enforcement authorities have reached agreement on a cooperative initiative to reduce gun violence.
The agreement was announced by Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug on Tuesday, April 13. They said the initiative is intended to coordinate and focus local and federal law enforcement resources on investigating and prosecuting gun crimes in Multnomah County.
As part of the initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice will deputize 20 local law enforcement officers to focus exclusively on investigating gun violence and crimes involving firearms. They will be assigned to a new Metro Safe Streets Task Force. Such task forces are already operating in other cities with high rates of shootings.
Participating local agencies include the Portland Police Bureau, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, the Gresham Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"All agencies involved in this initiative agree that community and law enforcement programs designed to prevent gun violence before it occurs are critical to solving this public health crisis. Today's announcement does not seek to preempt or replace any existing or proposed prevention-based gun violence reduction efforts. Rather, this new initiative is focused on investigating shootings after they occur and, where appropriate and supported by evidence, charging those responsible in state or federal court," said a press release announcing the initiative.
According to the release, local law enforcement deputized under this new agreement will play no role in enforcing immigration law or perform any crowd-management duties at First Amendment demonstrations or events. All local law enforcement agencies also are free to unilaterally cancel their participation in the collaboration at any time.
The release said that participation in the task force will give local law enforcement agencies a greater ability to: coordinate investigations across both the federal and state judicial systems; access federal forensic testing and analysis resources; access needed equipment such as vehicles, additional police radios and computers; and receive funding for overtime costs not currently funded by local agencies.
Management of the task force will be shared among the special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, special agent in charge of the ATF Seattle Field Division, the Multnomah County Sheriff and the chiefs of the Portland and Gresham police departments, the release said. In performing their task force duties, all deputized officers must follow all laws and the policies and procedures of their respective agency.
According to the release, task force cases will be jointly investigated by local law enforcement task force officers and special agents from the FBI and ATF. As cases progress, investigators and prosecutors from the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office and U.S. Attorney's Office will work together to determine if state or federal charges are warranted and which jurisdiction would be most appropriate for adjudication.
According to the release: "The frequency of gun violence in Portland and greater Multnomah County demands an immediate response to quell the staggering statistics. Countywide, as of April, there were already more than 30 homicides, nearly half of which involved a firearm. From January 1, 2021 through April 6, 2021, there have been at least 284 non-suicide shootings in the City of Portland. Approximately 32% of the shootings in Portland have resulted in an injury."
The cycle of this rampant gun violence is disproportionately impacting southeast Portland with the Hazelwood, Powellhurst-Gilbert, Centennial and Lents neighborhoods caught in the crosshairs, the release said. From January of 2019 through February of 2021, both the Hazelwood neighborhood and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood had more shootings in their individual communities than every neighborhood on the city's west side combined.
Despite representing only 6% of the population of the Portland metro area, roughly 50% of the victims of gun violence injuries in Portland are Black, and this violence is disproportionately expressed within the Black community.
According to the release, there is national evidence to show local organizations formed to confront violent crime and to build stronger communities have a direct and significant role in reducing crime. Research shows that every 10 additional community nonprofits in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 12% reduction in the homicide rate, a 10% reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 7% reduction in the property crime rate.
"The greatest potential for building stronger communities and controlling violent crime will be achieved by increasing the number of neighborhood organizations actively involved in these same efforts, by them developing programs for young people in our community and having dedicated staff to work against violence," the release said. "The data around gun violence in Portland and greater Multnomah County is compelling and the number of people killed by gun violence so far in 2021 further amplifies the urgency to act now to bring about a unified investigative approach."
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