As Portland’s homicide rate climbs from historic lows, a special police division within the department dedicated to combatting gun violence is having a hard time finding recruits.
The Gun Violence Reduction Team, which the City Council voted to disband last year amid social justice protests and criticisms that it disproportionately targeted people of color, has been reborn and rebranded as the Focused Initiative Team. The new unit aims to reduce violent crime while working with a citizen-advisory board comprised of eleven community members to “identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence.”
Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler unveiled the team in March, and said the community-driven committee would be responsible for overseeing its direction.
Out of 14 vacancies on the task force, only four police personnel indicated willingness to join, suggesting low confidence in the department’s practices among officers, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Some hesitance, it seems, also stems from fear of negative public reputation which the unit has generated in recent months.
Jami Resch, assistant chief of the Portland Police Bureau’s investigations branch, confirmed to the Journal that officers are reluctant to apply given the backlash against the old version and the still ambiguous collaboration with the oversight board. But she believes interest will pick up once its scope is solidified.
“They’re demonizing and vilifying you, and then they want to put you in a unit where you’re under an even bigger microscope,” Daryl Turner, leader of the union that represents Portland’s officers, told the Journal.
Portland has experienced 53 homicides so far this year, nearing the city’s 1987 all-time high of 70, Portland police officials informed the Journal.
Police departments across the country are seeing more resignations and retirements as public sentiment turned against police officers in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, police officials told the Journal. The defund the police movement also gained traction, although a May poll found that the majority of Portland residents oppose decreased police presence in the city. Officers often risk putting themselves in harm’s way, as politically-driven retaliation against police also increased between 2020 and 2021.
After a year of unrest following Floyd’s death, the Portland police spent more than $12 million responding to mass demonstrations and riots, not including property damage and reconstruction expenses private business owners and the city incurred.
In April, Portland allocated nearly $6 million to curbing gun violence in the city without directing funds to the police department, instead giving grants to non-profits groups to work with Portland’s Office of Violence Prevention and the Parks and Recreation bureau.
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