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Dedicated police unit will return to Old Town entertainment district

Police are reestablishing a unit to patrol the entertainment district in Old Town amid chronic gun violence in the area.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Police Bureau will reestablish a seven-person dedicated unit to serve the entertainment district in Old Town to try to address the ongoing high level of gun violence in the area.

The announcement was one of several public safety measures that Mayor Ted Wheeler outlined at a Tuesday morning press conference. He said the measures are necessary because "as we emerge from the pandemic, the crowds in Old Town have returned by the tens of thousands."

Police will also be given the authority to close streets to cars on Friday and Saturday nights in a 12-square-block area inside of West Burnside and Northwest Everett Streets and Northwest 1st and 5th Avenues.

Old Town is suffering from a high level of gun violence peaking on Friday and Saturday nights, he said, so the closures are intended to create a safer working environment for police and encourage pedestrians to spread out. The city will also implement better lighting and other safety improvements in the area.

RELATED: Portland police release video of Old Town gun battle that led to 2 arrests

The new police unit will consist of six officers and one sergeant, pulled from other patrol routes as part of a reorganization of schedules in the downtown precinct, according to PPB Cpt. Jim Crooker, who joined Wheeler at the press conference.

The unit is a revival of a previous entertainment district team that was discontinued early in the pandemic because the near-total shutdown of businesses made the team unnecessary, Wheeler said. The new unit will begin operations Thursday.

Old Town is one of several neighborhoods that are receiving or slated to receive enhanced attention as part of a push to combat gun violence, according to Community Safety Division director Mike Myers. Others include Parkrose, Hazelwood and Powellhurst-Gilbert.

The Old Town neighborhood in particular has repeatedly made headlines in recent years due to a rise in both violent crime and lesser issues like graffiti in, as well as a growing number of residents without homes camping on the streets.

RELATED: Community leaders in Portland's Old Town unveil plan to 'repair and reopen' neighborhood

Old Town business and community leaders have struggled to try to stem the tide and revitalize the district, even debuting a 90-day "reset" plan earlier this year that achieved mixed results.

Two members of the Old Town Community Association board of directors also spoke at Tuesday's press conference and thanked the city for reestablishing the police team.

"We've been advocating for this e-detail for a long time now," said Dan Lenzen, co-owner of the Dixie Tavern.

Tuesday's press conference, held at Kell's Irish Pub, was heavily disrupted by a group of protesters who spent much of the half hour chanting profane slogans about Wheeler, at times nearly drowning out the speakers.

The press conference participants didn't acknowledge the protest except for a brief remark when Jessie Burke, chair of The Society Hotel, said that "this community, regardless of what you hear outside right now, is incredibly grateful" for the enhanced safety support.

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