PORTLAND, Ore. — Amid spiking gun violence and an ongoing homelessness crisis, KGW's Pat Dooris sat down with Mayor Ted Wheeler for a one-on-one interview to find out what he plans to do about these problems in the city of Portland, along with his take on the future of downtown.
There have been more than 100 injury shootings and more than two-dozen homicides in Portland so far this year. At this rate, 2022 is on track to be the city's deadliest year on record.
To start off the interview, Dooris asked the mayor what he thinks about the rate at which shootings are happening.
"There's no question we're experiencing an epidemic of gun violence and homicides in this city," Wheeler replied. "And its not unique to Portland, but I really don't care what's happening elsewhere."
He said he's concerned about the escalation in gun violence, but that the city has taken "solid steps in recent months" to prevent shootings, namely the launch of the Portland Police Bureau's Focused Intervention Team.
"That's 22 officers, sergeants and lieutenants who focus on investigative follow-up. Importantly, we also have tighter relationships with both the district attorney as well as our federal partners to make sure people who engage in these activities are prosecuted," Wheeler added.
He said he expects gun violence to continue increasing in the summer months, as it typically does.
"My team and I will be monitoring [gun violence] and if we need to add additional officers to the Focused Intervention Team, I'll be prepared to do so," he said.
Dooris mentioned that he's been critical in the past of Mayor Wheeler not showing up at big murder scenes.
Wheeler defended himself, saying "I have gone to those scenes — as recently as what ... two, three weeks ago I was in Dawson Park. I do go. I don't go to all of them, but I do go. And the reason I don't go to all of them is once the scene is secured, that is a live, investigative crime scene. And having an elected official tooling around there isn't necessarily the best thing for the investigative follow-up.
"But I have attended. I've spoken to family members, I've spoken to people who have been directly impacted and I have always put out the word that if family members want talk to me, I am always available and a number of them have taken me up on that."
Dooris then moved on to the topic of homelessness. He asked how the mayor's use of executive orders to address issues related to homelessness has been working out.
"I think its going really well," Wheeler replied. "The first emergency directive I passed was to remove people from high-crash corridors where it isn't safe to pitch tents."
He said the city will go back and ensure the cleared campsites are being maintained with people kept away.
He also mentioned plans for sanctioned and managed campsites for homeless people, which have been in the works since summer 2021 and are planned to open later this year.
"The third, and probably the most important and least talked about, was to create a war room," Wheeler said. "To create a street services coordination center where all city bureaus come together, talk about hot spots, where we need to intervene, clean up, remediate and connect people with services. And that is already in the works. That's launching next week, and that'll have a huge impact just in terms of how city addresses homeless issues."
Dooris then asked the mayor if he was satisfied with the pace of recovery for downtown Portland, which has struggled to bounce back from 2020's racial justice protests and the pandemic.
"I'd like it to be faster, to be honest. I wish there were more people coming downtown more quickly. That includes city employees. But I understand the reluctance to do that," Wheeler said. "On other hand, I've been downtown the past several days. It's been busy, foot traffic is picking up, it's still hard to find a parking place in downtown."
Wheeler mentioned the return of big events like the Winter Lights Festival and said he's "confident we're on the road to recovery."
Dooris' last question to the mayor was, why not bring city employees back earlier?
"They're unionized, so this isn't a decision I get to make as mayor," he replied. "This is a negotiation we have with our collective bargain units. We have a scaled approach for people to return to the city of Portland. I've also offered ideas to incentivize employees to come back earlier and in larger numbers."
He said it's important for people to see that the city of Portland is confident and hopeful the future of the city, adding that will encourage the private sector to do the same.