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The Enhanced Community Safety Team is intended to slow the surge in gun violence that started last year.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland police vehicles at a crime scene.Amid a surge in violence, the Portland Police Bureau on Friday, Feb. 19, announced a new investigative unit focused specifically on response to shootings.

The new unit will be called the Enhanced Community Safety Team. Members went out on their first call on Thursday.

"At the direction of Mayor Wheeler, we are implementing this right away to address violence in the city," Deputy Chief Chris Davis said.

The City Council voted to dissolve PPB's previous Gun Violence Reduction Team last July after it was repeatedly accused of disproportionately focusing on the Black community. Since then, the city has seen a major increase in gun violence — more than 100 shootings and more than 30 non-fatal injuries for the year. There also have been six gun-related homicides so far in 2021.

The new unit is comprised of three police sergeants, 12 officers and six detectives. They will focus full time on investigations involving gun violence.

"We hope in the work of this team to narrow our focus, really a small group of repeat shooters who are responsible for an oversized proportion of gun violence in the city. That's not to say they are responsible for all of them," Davis said.

"We do know from experience that there is a small number of people who are involved in lots of lots of incidents. Working on tying those cases together, holding repeat offenders responsible will have a bigger impact on the problem," he continued.

Davis said the goal is to get the repeat offenders "off the street, and reduce this really disturbing trend of gun violence in our neighborhood." It will also help free up patrol officers, he added.

Mayor Wheeler expressed support for the new unit.

"I want to be clear. I see what others see; too many people being shot and killed in our community," Wheeler said. "I am deeply impacted by the loss of life and the trauma plaguing our community. Immediate action is needed. That's why I asked Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell for proposals about how best to respond and why I authorized the creation of an on-call team of officers to help investigate shootings that result in injuries or deaths. This is one of several law enforcement actions my administration is working on."

Other actions focus on increased prevention, intervention, education and support for victims and their families, Wheeler said.

"Gun violence is a public health crisis," he said. "We are taking a holistic, evidence-based approach with our local, regional, state and federal partners."

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Their story is here.

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