PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland leaders in law enforcement and criminal justice addressed the topic of gun violence within the city head-on during a virtual moderated Q & A session by the Portland Peace Initiative on Tuesday night.
The event was organized by the pastor of Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, J.W. Matt Hennessee, and took place two weeks after the latest homicide within the city. On March 1, Mark Johnson was shot and killed near Dawson Park in the middle of the day.
Leaders with the FBI, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), the Justice Department, the District Attorney's Office and the City of Portland were in attendance. The agencies discussed what is working and what each agency or department could be doing better. They also acknowledged the city has a long way to go.
"Maybe 25 years ago in my career, we would see a shooting scene with four or five rounds, shell casings, on the ground," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Kieran Ramsey. "It's not uncommon for law enforcement now to find 40, 50, 80, even one hundred shell casings. That's an unprecedented level of bullets flying around the street."
While community engagement and awareness are up, Ramsey said so are homicides.
"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," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not the case right now. We are on a record setting pace, yet again."
There were a record 90 homicides in 2021, and so far this year, there have been more than 20.
As part of the virtual panel discussion, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said community trust is key and it's hard to get witnesses — even victims of a crime — to come forward without it.
"You try to reconcile your desires to build trust and do community engagement, and then you realize too, you're part of a system that has had bad outcomes for people, particularly people of color."
Mike Myers, the city's community safety transition director, reflected on what seems to be going well and what they need to do better.
"We listen well, but we don't do what the community asked us to do," Myers said. "I hear that all the time. 'We talk and talk and talk. You listen, listen, listen, but then you don't go do what we're telling you you need to do.'"
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