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Portland’s plan to use traffic barrels to curb gun violence isn’t working, data suggests

To evaluate the pilot program, KGW requested a breakdown of calls to 911 dispatchers for shootings and reckless-driving related incidents in the area.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The city of Portland’s most visible response to gun violence, the installation of traffic barrels in a neighborhood plagued by shootings, isn’t working, data suggests. 

911 dispatchers have received a greater number of calls about shootings in the area since the orange barrels were put in place.

In October, city commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty ordered the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to install traffic-calming devices across a six-block area in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood. Hardesty collaborated with PBOT and nearby residents, who had complained about a surge in shootings over the summer and high-speed drivers.

RELATED: String of shootings in Portland's Mt Scott-Arleta neighborhood rattles neighbors

“No one is going to say, ‘Oh no, local access only. I better not shoot here,'” said neighbor Rachel Beckham. “That is ridiculous!”

To evaluate the pilot program, KGW requested a breakdown of calls to 911 dispatchers for shootings and reckless-driving related incidents within a roughly half-mile radius of Mt. Scott Park.

The data showed emergency calls about shootings increased. 

There were 42 shooting-related calls in the two months prior to the installation of the orange traffic barrels, compared to 45 calls after. Each call does not necessarily reflect an actual shooting and multiple people might call about a single incident.

Credit: KGW Staff
Calls related to shootings in the Mt. Scott area.

“The sad thing is that I’m getting numb to it. I hear something, I’m like — ‘Oh, probably another shooting but nothing is going to be done about it,” said Beckham.

Other neighbors support the concept.

“I’m glad there’s an initiative to try something,” said Lenore Eklund.

RELATED: 'I think it's sad what's happening': Woman and son nearly shot while driving in SE Portland

Another complaint among neighbors has been high-speed drivers, often associated with shootings.

“I don’t know what it is about these streets. I guess they just look like drag strips to some people,” said neighbor Joshua Hanson.

KGW’s review of 911 calls for reckless driving found there were 40 reckless-driving related calls in the neighborhood, compared to 39 after the barrels went up.

Credit: KGW Staff
Calls related to reckless driving in the Mt. Scott area.

Frustrated community members reached out to Hardesty’s office this summer seeking an immediate response.

“We had to act fast. This was the fastest and easiest solution that we could get our hands on right away because we were being exposed to almost nightly shootings,” said community leader and neighbor Nadine Salama.

Salama believes the barrels have been highly effective in stopping shootings, specifically in the six-block radius where traffic barrels were installed.

“I haven’t seen shootings at all," said Salama.

RELATED: What we know about Portland's homicide victims from 2021

To help evaluate the pilot program and determine whether it’s worth expanding to other parts of the city, Commissioner Hardesty’s office recently distributed a survey to neighbors within the six-block radius where the barrels were placed. Results are expected in January.

“Installing these barrels alone will not, and is not intended to, end all gun violence, crime, or speeding in your neighborhood,” Hardesty wrote in a letter to neighbors. “From police, to community-based organizations, to the ways we design our infrastructure — we all have a role to play in this crisis.”

Portland State University criminal justice professor Kris Henning questions the approach of using orange barrels to curb gun violence.

“Traffic barrels and other traffic calming devices can be a useful strategy for dealing with bad driving behavior, but I just don’t see the connection with shootings,” said Henning. “If anything, it will just send criminals elsewhere.”

WATCH: Where are the guns coming from?

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