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Burnout blamed for prosecutors leaving as gun violence continues to soar in Portland area.

COURTESY PHOTO: KOIN 6 NEWS - Evidence markers are placed at the scene of a shooting at Southeast 174th Avenue and Division Street that left about 90 casings on the ground Jan. 1.The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office is suffering an "unprecedented" loss of experienced prosecutors as gun crimes are on pace to break last year's record high.

Chief Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Kristen Snowden said that 12 to 15 deputy district attorneys had left the DA's office over the past year during a press conference on Thursday, March 17.

"Our criminal justice system is simply in crisis. We have criminal defense attorneys who are unable to accept new cases due to crushing workloads, and we in the DA's office are not immune to that," said Snowden, who blamed the turnover on high backlogs and caseloads.

"Historically, trial unit deputy district attorneys have heavy workloads but in the past two years, the significant rise in homicides and violent felonies combined with the backlog of cases led to unsustainable workloads. Exhaustion and burnout make it impossible to give our best to vulnerable victims," she said.

Snowden also said that several of the recent departures in her office were senior-level prosecutors, and that her office is reaching out to DA's offices in other counties to fill staffing vacancies.

"There are other jurisdictions that are the size of Portland that have twice as many prosecutors as our office does, and I think what's happened is just a confluence of factors that have contributed to the situation that we're in now." Snowden said.

Also speaking at the press conference were Mayor Ted Wheeler, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, Portland Police Bureau staff, and community-based partners. They gave an update of efforts to reduce gun violence but admitted it is continuing to increase.

The news conference happened the day after a man was shot while driving in Northeast Portland on Tuesday night. He is expected to survive, and no one was immediately arrested.

Both Snowden and Lovell echoed that 2022 is on track to surpass the previous record for gun violence cases. Out of the 20 homicides already recorded this year, Lovell said all but one were from gunshots. With that, gun violence referrals are reportedly up more than 450%.

Despite homicides pacing record highs, Wheeler said police reform — like the bureau's Focused Intervention Team, which launched nearly two months ago — is working.

"FIT officers aren't just responding to violence, they're working to prevent violence from happening in the first place," Wheeler said.

The news conference came after January 2022 saw an uptick in reported shootings in Portland compared to January 2021.

There were 107 shootings recorded in January 2022 and 104 in January 2021, a nearly 3% increase. Portland Police Bureau said 26 people were injured as a result of shootings in the first month of 2022 compared to 27 in January 2021.

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. Reporter Jim Redden contributed to this story.

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