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UPDATE: Data shows from July 2021 through July 2022, there were 10 homicides, six kidnappings and 430 assaults in the neighborhood.

COURTESY SCREENSHOT: KOIN 6 NEWS - Mayor Ted Wheeler at the Old Town Entertainment District press conference.The Portland Police Bureau is reestablishing a dedicated unit to serve the entertainment district in Old Town to address growing crowds amid a high level of gun violence in the area.

Mayor Ted Wheeler held a press conference Tuesday, Sept. 20, to announce "increased community safety measures in the Old Town Entertainment District." The unit consists of six officers and a sergeant. It will patrol the district Wednesday through Saturday nights, Police will also have the ability to shut down streets to provide more walking room and to make the area safer for foot traffic.

The goal of this, Mayor Wheeler said, is to reduce crime and to provide a faster response to any crime that might still be happening in the area.

Data shows from July 2021 through July 2022, there were 10 homicides, six kidnappings and 430 assaults in the neighborhood.

"We still have a lot of work to do in Old Town," Wheeler said. " My team and I have continued to initiate regular conversations with community leaders and our public safety teams to determine ways we can build on the progress being made in Old Town that will help address violence and crime here in the Entertainment District and beyond."

Wheeler was be joined by Portland Police Cpt. Jim Crooker, Community Safety Division director Mike Myers and two Old Town Community Association board members, Society Hotel owner Jessie Burke and Dixie Tavern co-owner Dan Lenzen. They all urged people to come to the area and help revitalize the economy.

Crooker said similar efforts are underway in other parts of Portland, including the Parkrose and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhoods.

A previous entertainment district unit was disbanded during the pandemic when entertainment and other businesses were shut down by COVID-19 restrictions. Old Town businesses have struggled to get back to normal as the pandemic has receded, both because of the violence and homeless encampments that grew over the past two years.

A letter sent in October 2021 from Lan Su Chinese Garden, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Portland Chinatown Museum, told local leaders it's past time for them to take action to address vandalism, crime and mental instability in the area.

The morning press conference was held at Kell's Irish Restaurant and Pub, 112 SW 2nd Ave. Protesters upset about homeless sweeps could be heard shouting and chanting throughout the event. Burke said none of them were from Old Town.

Because of constant nuisances, Brandon Anderson was hired as private security for a business in Old Town.

"I'll see a lot of things — people who are fighting, people who are using drugs," Anderson told KOIN 6 News on Monday night. "I'm just here to make everybody safe. I think it's a fairly safe area until a certain time of night, then you don't want to be alone by yourself down here."

While regulars in Old Town are receptive to hearing the mayor's new plans for safety, Anderson said they still have questions: "What are they doing? How is it going to be cleaner? Are they going to help transition people to a different environment or help them get off the street?"

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

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