PORTLAND, Oregon — There have been 69 homicides and more than 900 shootings in the city of Portland this year. That puts 2021 on pace to be the deadliest year in Portland since the city saw a record 70 homicides in 1987.
And there's no sign the violence is slowing down. Last weekend, Portland police responded to 13 shootings in a span of 28 hours, leaving one man dead and three others injured.
In July, Portland police responded to 138 shootings, the highest total for any month over the last two years. For comparison, there were 34 shootings in July 2019.
The violence comes as the Portland Police Bureau faces a staffing crisis. Since July 2020, the bureau has lost over 120 sworn members to retirement or resignation.
Earlier this week, the Portland Police Association (PPA) called for an additional 800 officers over the next five years — almost double the size of the current force.
It's unclear if the Portland Police Bureau will receive more resources from city hall but in the meantime, the FBI has stepped in to support local law enforcement.
Kieran Ramsey is the special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Portland. He said the FBI is primarily working behind the scenes and focusing on specific cases.
The FBI has an agent respond to any shooting in Portland with a suspected gang tie. It's all part of the mission of the Metro safe streets task force created last spring.
Ramsey said the FBI uses something called the 'enterprise theory of investigation' to get the worst offenders off the street.
"We try and connect one individual to another, to another and oftentimes that connection in this context involves guns and shootings, and trying to make sure that we identify these folks that are just repeatedly involved in shootings on the streets of Portland," said Ramsey.
The most recent example is the arrest of 23-year-old twin brothers from Gresham: Thomas Edward Green and Edward Charles Green.
According to court documents, the brothers are members of the Unthank Park Hustlers, a local Bloods gang set.
Both are facing federal charges after illegally buying 82 guns linked to at least ten shootings in Portland.
"We're talking over 70, over 80 firearms, and then they're taking those as commodities — they're selling them, they're trading them and again, we have this huge problem of availability of weapons in the hands of people that are absolutely willing to use them at any given moment," said Ramsey.
From a federal perspective, Ramsey said the two biggest challenges are the availability of guns on the street and the unwillingness of witnesses to come forward.
"No one is willing to talk with the police. And the fact is we need to reach some tipping point where that stops," said Ramsey.
The special agent in charge has met with more than half a dozen community groups to build trust and relationships including Word is Bond, an organization that builds connections between young black men and law enforcement.
"The meeting went well," said Lakayana Drury is the Executive Director of the organization. "I think one of the things I like about Kieran's approach is that he's trying to meet with community leaders."
When asked whether there's trust between the community groups and the FBI, Drury said, "Not with Black community groups. One of the things you have to understand is it's not particularly any individual, but the system as a whole right. Law enforcement historically has been abrasive to communities of color. That trust is, I would say it's never been there and there's still a long way to go."
The FBI has also committed financial resources to increase the reward money for unsolved shooting deaths.
Evelin Navarro Barajas was killed on NE Killingsworth back in June of 2020. The FBI offered $15,000 for information leading to an arrest but the case is still unsolved.
Ramsey said the bureau plans to offer rewards for at least four more unsolved cases in the next few weeks. He hopes someone will come forward with information that can help solve these crimes.
"There are people out there that know some of these shooters and maybe they were even victims. And the fact that they're not willing to share that with law enforcement is just so frustrating," he said.
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