Spike in Portland gang violence worries many

Spike in Portland gang violence worries many »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – Gang violence in Portland spiked nearly 70 percent in 2008, a huge increase that is in opposition to the general downward trend of crime in the city.

Police say gang activities, especially shootings, have been on the increase, especially after a shooting at a church during funeral on Dec. 12.

That incident sparked a cycle of reprisal shootings. On New Year’s Eve, two teens were shot and killed in North Portland . A 17-year-old is the prime suspect in that incident. Gang ties for all involved are suspected.

Following the shooting at the funeral, leaders of a dozen churches gathered to call for an end to the violence.

Despite the plea for peace, police in Portland and Gresham have responded to a gang-related shooting nearly every day since the shooting at the funeral.

Reasons for the surge in gang violence have been attributed to a lack of parental involvement with youth, a lack of opportunity and jobs to simple boredom.

Police said they responded to 68 cases of gang violence in 2008. The majority of the incidents were shootings.

Police officials said they are working with church and community leaders to try and interrupt the cycle of violence.

The Associated Press provided this coverage of the issue:

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A surge in gang violence that began with the shooting of a man at a funeral service in December has alarmed Portland and its leaders.

Three young men have died, and police say the rivalry between Bloods and Crips is mounting.

Some who lived through it recall the height of the city's gang violence in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I have actual gang members saying 'This is bad out here,' " Michael Johnson, a former Crip, told The Oregonian newspaper.

In response, pastors at funerals are appealing from the pulpit to gang members to end the shooting. Police are paying overtime to put more officers on the street.

Probation officers are making more contacts with gang offenders on supervision and mapping out safety plans for those who may be targets. Outreach workers are staying visible on the streets and are lobbying to keep their programs going.

Dan Saltzman, Portland's new police commissioner, promised this week to press the City Council to maintain gang outreach programs and to try to keep local community centers open late with programs aimed at teenagers.

"We don't want to wait for the shootings and just try to arrest people afterwards," he told the paper. "There's just a lot of different tacks we have to take."

Although the city's homicide rate and overall crime rate are down, gang violence has increased sharply over the past year, police say.

They say they identified more than 150 new gang members and seized 112 firearms from gang members in 2008, about one-eighth of all the guns they seized in the year.

On Dec. 12, Darshawn Cross, 31, collapsed from multiple gunshots during a funeral in the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.

Police say near-daily shootings followed, with bullets flying in drive-by shootings, during car chases, outside busy malls and theaters and into homes.

On New Year's Eve, two 18-year-olds were killed at a Gresham apartment complex. One, Willy Butler, was a half brother of the man accused of shooting Cross.

"We have a crisis," said Lt. Mike Leloff of Portland's gang enforcement unit.

Rob Ingram, director of the city's Office of Youth Violence Prevention, has lobbied city commissioners to at least maintain the level of funding for gang outreach programs. For the past two years, the city has provided $400,000 a year in grants for six to seven outreach programs. That's given each program about $60,000 a year.

"It's such a small pot of money, we really can't do much," Ingram said. "I view it as plugging the dam with bubble gum."

Mayor Sam Adams said he's asked Saltzman to assess what's needed to help the city "get on top of this."

Saltzman said he's committed to maintaining the $400,000 for outreach. Given the economic climate, he said, he doubts more money will be available.

But, he said, it might be distributed differently, possibly larger amounts given to fewer agencies so they can do more with the money. "The events of late certainly would suggest it's needed," Saltzman said.

Last week, Calvary Christian Center Church in Northeast Portland, more than 300 people attended the funeral of Darius Perry, the other 18-year-old who died on New Year's Eve.

"Another senseless murder. ... You're so angry at one another, and for what? For this? For this?" asked the Rev. Frederick Woods, standing on the pulpit above Perry's mahogany casket. "Another young man gone. At what point do we put down the guns?"