Police chief orders team to halt use of active gang list
Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw has directed her Gang Enforcement Team to stop maintaining a so-called secret list of active gang members.
However, Multnomah County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kristen Snowden and other law enforcement officials say the list is essential for reducing gang violence.
The list was first publicized in a city audit of the gang team released March 28. The Portland Auditor's Office said the police bureau had stopped maintaining a longtime list of known and suspected gang members and associates last year, at Mayor Ted Wheeler's direction. But according to the audit, the team had continued making a list of "most active gang members and associates" without telling the public.
"If the Police Bureau continues the most active list or other practices of collecting information on people's gang relationships, we recommend it should adopt a policy and put safeguards in place to protect people's rights and the accuracy of the information. It should also address potential legal questions," the audit says.
Wheeler aide Berk Nelson announced Outlaw's directive at the biweekly meeting of the Community Peace Collaborative on Friday, April 5. Nelson read a statement from Wheeler who said he was "deeply disappointed" to learn the team was still maintaining such a list.
"A key question is whether the existence of the list is in conflict with my specific direction. Chief Outlaw shares my concerns. Last week she directed the bureau to immediately cease use of the list pending further discussion. I support Chief Outlaw's decision, and I trust the chief to come to a positive resolution," Nelson quoted Wheeler as saying.
But during a spirited discussion by the group about the list, Snowden strongly disputed the audit's description of the list and said it was needed to reduce gang shootings. Snowden said that unlike the previous list, it was not a membership list, but a list of suspects in recent shootings in Portland based on forensic evidence collected at the scene of the shootings, witness statements and tips from informants.
"The notion that it is a secret gang list, I categorically disagree with that description," said Snowden, explaining she was interviewed for the audit and objected to its description of the list.
According to Snowden, the team was using the list to build cases against specific suspects in gang-related shootings. In the meantime, after the suspects are identified, team members work to locate and arrest them for parole violations or other crimes, if possible.
"If we can't use a list like this, I don't know what we can do to reduce gang violence," Snowden said.
Other law enforcement officials at the meeting agreed with Snowden, including Brad Smith, a Multnomah County parole and probation supervisor who works with team members to locate the suspects on the list.
"We are targeting shooters, not gang sets," Smith said.
Some others at the meeting were still bothered by the idea of the list, noting that, according to the audit, everyone on it was African-American. Snowden replied that while there are other race-based gangs in the Portland region, only African-American gang members are routinely shooting at one another in public. The audit acknowledged the same point.
Even Kimberly Dixon, whose son, Andreas Jones, allegedly was murdered by a known gang member in 2013, questioned whether the city is following the right strategy to reduce gang violence.
"Put the freaking resources into the youths and families. Pay for bus passes, summer work experiences, and education opportunities for those being priced out of our community," she said to applause from much of the crowd.
According to the most recent team statistics, gang violence increased 45 percent in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2017. Almost all of the cases investigated by the team are shootings, with multiple shots frequently exchanged between suspects. Police believe many are in retaliation for the shooting death of a gang member in January.
The Community Peace Collaborative is a public forum that meets every other week at North Precinct. It is overseen by the city's Office of Youth Violence Prevention and is regularly attended by law enforcement officials, social service workers, religious leaders, community activists and interested community members.
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You can read the audit that questions the list at: tinyurl.com/yc96cskw.