The Portland City Council has approved a new, multi-pronged, multi-bureau, coordinated effort to address gun violence in the city.
The April 7 vote included nearly $6 million in changes.
We applaud the effort and the idea of thinking outside the Portland Police Bureau for the solution. Will any of this help? Too soon to know. Will maintaining the status quo work? Absolutely not. So, this seems a good start.
For perspective, a recent article by reporter Jim Redden pointed out the city of Portland saw four homicides between January and May of last year. This year, according to police, there have been more than 280 shootings, injuring more than 90 people. Guns have caused 18 of the 25 homicides since Jan. 1, and the city is on track to record 100 killings this year.
Those numbers are appalling. The current members of the City Council think so, too.
The proposal creates a new shooting response team within the bureau, but none of the nearly $6 million is going to hire more police officers. Instead, it provides more than $4 million in grants to community-based organization and allocate $1.4 million to Portland Parks & Recreation to hire more park rangers from May to December. In most years, the 24 full-time, year-round rangers are augmented by just 10 to 15 seasonal rangers. This year, however, 24 seasonal staff will be added.
Park rangers in Portland are not law enforcement officers. They're unarmed, goodwill ambassadors. Will going from about 34 or 39 rangers to 48 make much of a difference in a city with almost 280 ?parks? and natural areas? That seems the most dubious of the changes, but time will tell.
The new partner organizations included in this project include the Latino Network, the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, and NAYA, the Native American Youth and Family Center. Those certainly seem like the proper non-governmental agencies to take part.
Here are the things we endorse in this proposal:
• Treating gun violence as a public health issue and not simply as a police issue. If the only person responding to a shooting is a cop — after the trigger's pulled — the best you can hope for is another person incarcerated. That's a pretty lousy best-case scenario. If the people also responding are those engaged in changing the underlying dynamics of violence — poverty, helplessness, and underserved communities — then the best-case scenario is fewer shootings.
• This seems like one of those instances in which very simple, very clear metrics exist to measure success or failure: Will the city see fewer shootings, fewer injuries, fewer deaths? Those are the numbers, Mayor Ted Wheeler told us, that people "give a damn" about. "Those numbers have been moving in the wrong direction for some time," he added.
So those are easy enough stats to track.
Here's another metric of success: In the near future, will underserved communities that have lost faith in Portland Police say that they feel safer? That they're being heard? That they've been given the power and funding to make a difference in this issue? If we get "yes" answers to those questions in the months and years to come, then this will have been a rousing success.
A lot of questions remain. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is the leading proponent of police accountability and changing the job of policing, yet she's been notably absent regarding this project. She voted "yes," but she didn't make herself available to talk to the media. Commissioners Carmen Rubio and Dan Ryan did, along with the mayor. Is there some underlying tension here?
The proposal's been approved by the Multnomah County chair, by Portland Public Schools, and by a wide array of organizations, including the Coalition of Communities of Color, the Latino Network, and Unite Oregon. Reimagine Oregon, a powerful new coalition of African American leaders striving for change at the city, county, regional and state levels, has not added its imprimatur. We don't yet know if that's significant, but Reimagine Oregon has become a powerhouse.
Finally, we have to applaud the idea of thinking outside the cop. Outreach to the communities most affected by the surge in violence is smart. So is blending the efforts of many city bureaus and linking it all through community groups.
The violence in Portland has to stop.
This feels — for now — like a strong first step.
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