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UPDATE: Commissioner Hardesty says she does not think more police would help.

PMG SCREENSHOT - Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler addressed deadly gun violence during a virtual news conference Saturday, June 17. "What we need is a plan."

After a weekend of gunfire piercing the city — leaving more than a dozen wounded or dead — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called for a "five-year plan" and pledged to boost the number of cops patrolling downtown and on the east side.

"We do not have the adequate resources deployed in our streets in a proactive way," Wheeler said during a virtual news conference Saturday, July 17. "I will fight for more police officers."

The mayor's call for more cops came hours after Central Precinct officers responded to an "extremely chaotic scene with lots of injured people" around 2 a.m. Saturday in the 300 block of Southwest Third Avenue that wounded seven people, including an 18-year-old woman who later died in the hospital, Police Chief Chuck Lovell said.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty does not think more officers on the street would help.

"I did hear the mayor say we need more police and more training, but every time there's a community tragedy, that's the tagline we use. And even if we had 10 police officers on the corner downtown, what would have turned out different? Nothing," KOIN 6 News reported Hardesty as saying.

"I could not in good conscience add more officers to a dysfunctional police force. We need to fix what's broken first," she said.

According to the chief, 11 people were wounded and two killed in a spate of 11 gun violence incidents that occurred over the past 38 hours. He declined to offer specifics about ongoing investigations — including whether police believe the downtown shooting was gang related — but said detectives are searching for witnesses or more victims who may have left the scene.

No arrests have been made so far, and the "suspect or suspects" involved fled the area before anyone called 911. Another man was found dead in the 11300 block of Northeast Sandy Boulevard around 6:30 a.m. in the Parkrose neighborhood.

They are expected to be the 50th and 51st homicides reported within city limits this year. In comparison, the city recorded 55 homicides in 2020.

Also on Saturday, the search for a wounded person went cold in the 8000 block of Southeast Foster Road, and a woman suffered "serious" injuries after being shot in the 2100 block of North Willis Street and remains hospitalized, per the police chief.

"Not only is this shocking, all of these calls really tax resources, both patrol and investigations," Lovell said. "We're doing everything we can to stop this disturbing trend."

Describing the police bureau as "under-resourced," Mayor Wheeler said he will work with his fellow elected commissioners to find "clarity" regarding the tools, training and appropriate number of personnel needed for the police bureau.

At present, there are 630 authorized officer-rank positions, of which only 560 are filled. Some 125 officers left the bureau for various reasons over the past year.

"I'm hearing from the public loudly and clearly, that while they want a safe community, they also want a bureau that's accountable to the public which it serves," Wheeler said.

City Hall slashed more than $15 million from the Police Bureau's budget in 2020, and Wheeler himself asked law enforcement leaders to suggest as much as a 5% reduction in police spending for the 2021 spending that was OK'd in June.

Ultimately, the police bureau budget was only trimmed by about $3 million, putting the agency's final cost for the 2021-22 fiscal year just under $230 million.

Those cuts did not fire anyone currently holding a badge and gun, but were related to "overtime reductions, materials and services reductions, and personnel costs for currently vacant positions," according to the mayor's budget materials cited by OPB.

At the news conference, Wheeler said there was "no way" to leave the police bureau "completely immune from cuts" due to the pandemic's pinch on the city's revenue.

"Obviously, I would have preferred that we didn't take any cuts to the Portland Police Bureau, but that was not possible with the resources we have available" he said.

KOIN 6 News and Tribune staffer Jim Redden contributed reporting to this story.

Zane Sparling
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