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Portland mayor and officials discuss strategies, staffing challenges amid wave of gun violence

There have been 22 homicides in Portland so far this year, most of them the result of gun violence.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and other public officials held a press conference Thursday morning to provide what Wheeler's office called a "status report" on efforts to combat continued gun violence in the city.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kristen Snowden, and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell were scheduled to speak at the briefing, joined by other Portland Police Bureau (PPB) staff and community partners.

The initiative to end gun violence in Portland has included coordination between city, county, federal, and community-based organizations, Wheeler's office said in a press release Wednesday evening.

Watch the full press conference here:

Wheeler and Lovell discussed the work of the new Focused Intervention Team, which began operating about two months ago with a specific focus on gun violence. The team has made more than 80 arrests and seized 25 guns so far, Wheeler said.

There have been 22 homicides in Portland since the beginning of 2022, most of them shootings. Wheeler acknowledged Portland is on pace to outstrip the record number of homicides last year, but said he believed the city has made the right investments into measures to try to curb the violence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel outlined the details of a recent case in which federal agents and Salem Police officers seized more than 60 guns from a single home in Salem and arrested a suspect who is alleged to be part of a large "ghost gun" operation in Oregon.

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Much of the press conference focused on the difficulties created by current staffing shortages. PPB is down to an historic low of about 780 sworn officers, Lovell said, and he and Wheeler acknowledged that a recent attempt to rehire officers who retired in the past few years did not manage lure anyone back.

Another wave of retirements is expected in July, and Lovell said he thought the retire-rehire program would be more successful in convincing some of those offers to stay on.

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The district attorney's office is also facing severe staffing shortages, Snowden said. Prosecutors are feeling burned out, swamped by record-high caseloads, and the office is trying to focus its resources on the most violent offenders.

Some of the same police and government officials scheduled to speak at Thursday's press conference attended a virtual Q & A session hosted by the Portland Peace Initiative on Tuesday night. They acknowledged that Portland still has a long way to go.

RELATED: Police arrest suspect in Feb. 26 fatal shooting in Portland's Lloyd District

"We know if we are doing well just by the number of shootings going down. As a result, the number of shooting injuries going down and the number of homicides going down," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Kieran Ramsey. "Unfortunately, that's not the case right now. We are on a record-setting pace, yet again."

The Portland City Council disbanded PPB's Gun Violence Reduction Team during the wave of racial justice protests of 2020. Since then, the city has gradually debuted other teams designed to investigate and address shootings — beginning with the Focused Intervention Team in January, and followed by the Enhanced Community Safety Team in February.

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