Portland adds officers to fight gangs, also focuses on outreach

Portland adds officers to fight gangs, also focuses on outreach »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – With school out Portland police are worried about kids turning to gangs and violence this summer so they're adding more than a dozen officers to the Gang Enforcement Team and gun task force.

A city of Portland gang activity map shows a strong correlation with gangs involved in crime with stops along the MAX line.

As of last Friday the Gang Enforcement Team had responded to 57 gang-related shootings in Portland. That's 21 more than this time last year.

So Thursday morning Mayor Sam Adams announced Operation Safe Summer. Starting next Thursday, Portland police will reassign 14 officers, two detectives, a sergeant and a lieutenant to focus on gang activity by monitoring hot spots, gathering intelligence and helping in arrests.

Four of those officers will work on the gun task force, doubling its size. The city will also focus on preventing kids from seeking out gangs.

At Holladay Park near the Lloyd Center, for example, where Thursday morning's announcement happened, police said crime has dropped 20 percent since this time last year when volunteers really started trying to reach out to kids and talk to them about their lives.

"You cannot out-police this problem," said Pastor Matt Hennessee, who volunteers at Holladay Park. "It takes every one of us to do it."

John Canda, an outreach worker, said, "So as a parent, if you’re sitting out there, and you're wondering how you can be involved in prevention – it starts at home. Speak with your children. Question them about where they're going – who their friends are."

At the intersection of Southeast 162nd and Stark, one of Portland's hottest hot spots for activity, sits an empty strip mall storefront that's been converted into a community center.

"There's a lot of prostitution, drugs (and) gangs (in the area)," said outreach worker Valerie Salazar, who lives in the Rosewood neighborhood. "There's a lack of resources. Not a whole lot of parks. Not a whole lot of community centers – people join gangs to be accepted, to have a family.

Salazar is one of several people working on the Rosewood Initiative. The idea is to give kids a place to hang out and things to do instead of turning to gangs.

"What we're seeing is kids expressing their despair, their frustration (and) adults aren't being in tune to that," said Royal Harris, a gang outreach worker.

Outreach workers like Harris say girls are becoming increasingly violent throughout the community.

"Looking at the transportation system, we have a much more fluid teenage community, and as they spread throughout the city, issues that might have been isolated to particular neighborhoods now become issues that reflect and impact the whole city," Harris said.

The extra officers will stay on for three months, going back to their normal duties in September. They'll come from patrol, transit and other units. School resource officers, who are out for the summer, will help to cover precinct policing.

Adams also announced another anonymous gun turn-in event. It'll be Aug. 18 in the Rose Quarter.