Officials from several Multnomah County agencies on Thursday announced several initiatives to tackle what they describe as an unprecedented increase in gun violence.
“The old public safety approach to the war on crime, which relies almost exclusively on law enforcement, prosecution and punishment, is both ineffective and causing serious long-term damage. , especially to communities of color, ”County President Deborah Kafoury said at a press conference announcing the plans.
The county public health department is engaged in county-wide gun violence reduction efforts as leaders seek to expand the range of available resources. The county is spending $ 2.8 million on public health and behavioral resources aimed at addressing the root causes of the violence.
Among the programs the money will fund is a seven-person gun violence behavioral health response team. The team will be a mix of mental health clinicians and people with lived experience. It will be made up of members of Latino communities, African and black immigrants. Department of Health director Ebony Clark said research has shown that when services are culture-specific, they see increased engagement and better results.
“We are not only working to prevent gun violence, but we are also working to address trauma issues from the perspective of generations and survivors,” Clark said. “We strive to address the impact, challenges and barriers faced by those who touch the criminal justice system.
Mobile teams will take referrals and respond to a variety of situations, including providing support at scenes of gun violence, responding to a hospital if a victim needs help or if a family member can call and ask for help. ‘aid.
“We imagine that the referrals will come from hospitals, the police; it will come from the behavioral health and community division, ”said Clark. “[They’re] seeking to resolve any specific mental health and / or substance use problem.
The announcement comes as Portland city officials struggle to cope with a rate of gun violence and homicides that has been on the rise for more than two years. So far this year, Portland Police have recorded 917 shootings and 66 homicides. Earlier this week, Portland police responded to seven shootings within a 3-hour window.
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said his agency has counted 30 shootings in areas where his deputies patrol, including Maywood Park, Troutdale, Wood Village, Fairview and the unincorporated parts of the county. Reese said his deputies have confiscated 719 firearms so far this year, including several machine guns. Annual transport nearly tripled from 2019, when MPs seized 267 guns.
“By removing guns from the equation, we reduce the likelihood of a fatal outcome and keep guns out of the hands of those at greatest risk,” Reese said.
District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced his office would hire two investigators and four prosecutors to help deal with an unprecedented rise in violent crime. Schmidt’s office has prosecuted 285 gun-related cases so far in 2021, up from 152 in 2020 and 51 in 2019.
Although Schmidt’s office is expected to receive $ 1 million to hire these new prosecutors, he stressed that the criminal justice system is not the primary solution to tackling gun violence.
“Locking up people and throwing away the key… is a failed experiment,” he said. “We will not pursue alone to get out of this violence. “
The county is also drawing ideas from Operation Ceasefire, a gun violence reduction program started in Boston and adapted in cities like Oakland and Stockton, California. The county’s community justice department, which oversees parole and probation services, will begin calling people perceived to be most likely to participate in gun violence.
Appeals are an opportunity for representatives of the criminal justice system to explain the consequences for an individual if they commit acts of violence, but also to make available all the necessary resources and services, such as help with employment, mental health care or religious ties. community based.
“It’s a lever that we pull when we see an increase in gun violence in the community,” DCJ director Erika Preuitt said in an interview with OPB. Preuitt explained that it’s a lever that they use relatively infrequently, about 10 times over the past decade.
Preuitt said they are contacting people under surveillance who they believe are actively involved in gang activity.
“The point is (…) that they take the message and our hope is that they pass it on to the rest of the group, to the people who are not under surveillance,” she said. “So it has an exponential impact.”
County officials objected when asked when the community could expect these initiatives to begin to reduce gun violence. Factors affecting violent crime rates are hotly debated among researchers and experts. Even the most successful programs deployed to combat gun violence have had mixed success. Operation Ceasefire is credited with a dramatic reduction in gun violence in a number of cities, but a close examination of the data shows that short-term declines typically subside after a few years.
“We’re in uncharted territory and we’re constantly evaluating what we’re doing and trying to pivot,” Kafoury said.