News and Commentary

Portland Cut Police Violence Unit After 2020 Riots. Resurrected As Murder Soars, Few People Want The Job.
PORTLAND, USA - APRIL 11: A protester holds a sign reading "Disarm And Defund The Police" during a protest against fatal police shootings in Portland, Oregon, United States on April 11, 2018. John Andrew Elifritz, 48, was fatally shot by police after he reportedly fled from a stolen car and burst into a homeless shelter at the start of an alcoholics anonymous meeting last Saturday.
Alex Milan Tracy / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

As riots raged in Portland, Oregon, over the summer of 2020, the Portland City Council last summer acceded to critics of the police department who wanted to defund the police, with Mayor Ted Wheeler announcing the Portland Police Bureau would dissolve its Gun Violence Reduction Team as the Council voted to cut $15 million from the police department. In the process, the city disbanded the 38-person gun-violence team.

But now that the city’s homicide rate is soaring, with 53 homicides already in 2021 — the record for Portland for an entire year is 70 in 1987 — and the city suddenly wants to resurrect a version of the Gun Violence Reduction Team, virtually no one wants to apply for the job. “Since 14 job openings were announced in May, only four police personnel have applied to work with the new version of Portland’s Gun Violence Reduction Team,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, adding, “None have yet been assigned.”

The resurrected unit, which was announced by Mayor Ted Wheeler in March as the “Focused Intervention Team,” has a new citizen-advisory board. The Journal noted, “A job description says qualifications include the ability to fight systemic racism.”

Lt. Greg Pashley, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, stated, “There weren’t very many people who put in. Now what I think the bureau is doing is switching a little bit and try to put in place the supervisors, the leadership of the team. And the supervisors may have some role in recruiting members, talking to people who might be interested,” KPTV reported.

Daryl Turner, the executive director of the Portland Police Association, told the Journal, “They’re demonizing and vilifying you, and then they want to put you in a unit where you’re under an even bigger microscope.”

Jami Resch, assistant chief of the Portland Police Bureau’s investigations branch, admitted that applications to join the unit have dwindled partly because of prior criticism and how the unit interacts with the committee.

An internal posting about the Focused Intervention Team “included a new list of required qualifications, including the ‘ability to identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence,’” the Journal reported.”

Former Portland police officer Lionel Irving, who serves on the oversight committee for the new unit, said policemen “are incredibly hesitant to do anything proactive because either they have a complaint filed against them or every stop is a fight.”

In June, the Portland Police Association relocated from its longtime office in the Kenton neighborhood; Turner wrote on Facebook:

Over six years ago, the Portland Police Association (PPA) relocated from our long-time office location in Northwest Portland to a building on Lombard just west of I-5 in North Portland. And we wanted to be part of the community there. The Lombard building had previously housed a card room with a reputation of parties, illegal drug use; and the remnants of late-night partying were often left on neighborhood streets and sidewalks.

The neighbors welcomed us and were glad to have the police union and police cars there. The community supported us and dropped by to say hello. We opened a Rest Stop for officers, so they had a place to come have lunch, use the restroom, and write reports. Time and again we heard from folks that they felt safer in the neighborhood and were thankful to have things cleaned up.

As our building became the target of vandalism and arson last summer, there were several times that our neighbors helped paint over vile and vulgar graffiti scrawled across the outside walls and picked up trash and garbage. And as the rioting escalated at our location, we felt that the community was more and more at risk.

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