Portland police chief reacts to this weekend's shooting horror, stresses recruitment for new gun violence unit

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Portland’s police chief reacted Monday to this past weekend’s record-breaking gun violence, again stressing the need for his department to recruit officers for its newly resurrected gun violence unit, which over the summer saw little interest from cops a year after the defund police movement. 

Chuck Lovell, chief of the Portland Police Bureau, reacted after his officers responded to at least 19 shootings over the weekend, including one double homicide which pushed Portland past its three-decade record number of killings. By Monday, three of those shootings resulted in a suspect identified or taken into custody, The Oregonian reported, as the remaining 16 were still under investigation. 

“The ongoing tragedy of gun violence is on my mind tonight after a terrible weekend of violence in our city. A double murder this weekend. Nineteen shootings in 54 hours. Stunning,” Lovell tweeted Monday. 

“I know this violence causes trauma for our whole community, and our first responders are no different,” the chief in Oregon’s largest city wrote. “I want to acknowledge the incredible work from PPB members who responded, investigated, made arrests, and seized illegal guns. 

“It’s a complex problem, and there are many community members/groups that are working hard to address it. PPB is a part of that effort to address this violence,” Lovell said. “The Focused Intervention Team position has been posted and we’re now recruiting some great PPB officers. More soon.” 

Portland had already reached a grim milestone last week, as the police department documented more than 1,000 shootings so far this year. Citing that statistic, Lovell has mentioned that the bureau was “working hard at building the Focused Intervention Team, which has a goal to deescalate and lower the tensions in the community that are feeding the contagious gun violence crisis.” 

The once-prestigious positions on Portland’s Gun Violence Reduction Team were being considered less desirable due to the added scrutiny that comes with the role. Homicides have surged since the unit was disbanded in the summer of 2020 after the Portland City Council voted to slash the police bureau’s budget by $15 million. Amid the uptick in gun violence, Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed a new unit in March renamed the Focused Intervention Team. But Fox 12 Oregon previously reported in July that three months into recruiting, few officers had expressed interest. 

In voting to disband the old team tasked with investigating gun violence last year, Portland officials cited data showing the 52% of stops conducted in 2019 were for Black people, who represent 5.8% of the city’s population. But Jami Resch, assistant chief of the Portland Police Bureau’s investigations branch, told to The Wall Street Journal in August that the unit’s past work was beneficial in minority communities, as shootings have disproportionately impacted the 23% of Portland’s population that is non-White.

If two of the city’s most recent killings Sunday are ruled homicides, they would mark the 70th and 71st of the year, surpassing Portland’s record of 70 set in all of 1987, The Oregonian reported.

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