Portland resurrects police unit to fight gun violence, but only a few officers are willing to join
08/05/2021 // Ramon Tomey // Views

The law enforcement department of Portland, Oregon can't find enough officers to join its new police unit. The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) said only a few police officers applied for its Focused Intervention Team (FIT). Formerly known as the Gun Violence Reduction Team, the FIT is the result of an overhaul brought about by Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

According to the PPB, only four police officers have applied to work with the FIT since the announcement of 14 job openings back in May 2021. To this day, none of them have been assigned yet. PPB officers said such positions became less desirable because of the increased scrutiny that came with the assignment.

Portland Police Association Executive Director Daryl Turner told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ): "They're demonizing and vilifying you, and then they want to put you in a unity where you're under an even bigger microscope." Turner's organization represented rank and file officers in the PPB.

Another veteran PPB officer told the WSJ: "Martin Luther King couldn't dismantle systematic racism. Now you want a cop to do it? Nobody wants to be part of something that's set up to be a failure." The veteran officer added that his colleagues "are incredibly hesitant to do anything proactive because either they have a complaint filed against them or every stop is a fight."

PPB Assistant Chief of Investigations Jami Resch acknowledged the bureau's low morale, saying criticism of the old unit was the main reason. She added that uncertainty surrounding the FIT and its 11-member citizen oversight committee contributed to the small number of applications. The committee overseeing the FIT was established after city leaders criticized the old unit for racial profiling.


However, Resch predicted that there will be more interest in the new unit once those roles are clarified. The old unit's past work was of benefit for the city's 23 percent minority population, she continued.

Last summer, the Portland City Council voted to cut $15 million from the PPB amid calls by BLM protesters to defund law enforcement. The budget cut impacted the bureau's 38-member gun violence team, which was disbanded in June 2020. However, homicide rates in the city increased with the old unit's dissolution. This prompted PPB officials to create a new team – the FIT – to address the violence. (Related: Movement to defund the Portland police has cost the city’s taxpayers $6.9 million in police overtime alone.)

Defunding the police worsened Portland's homicide problem

A recent study by Washington, D.C. think tank Council on Criminal Justice said homicide rates in a sample of 32 U.S. cities went up by 24 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. It noted that the rates were far below homicide peaks from the 1990s.

However, PPB officials said Portland could surpass its all-time high of 70 homicides in 1987. The city recorded 53 homicides as of writing, which reversed its decades-long reputation of having one of the lowest homicide rates among large cities.

In response, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced the FIT's establishment in March 2021. He said the FIT would focus on combating gun violence and lowering tensions with residents. According to internal job postings, the FIT looked for additional qualifications such as the "ability to identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the [PPB's] response to gun violence."

A report by Police1 said FIT members will "work primarily and uniform" and use "community-informed and data-led tactics" to directly intervene with people identified to be at highest risk of gun violence. It added that these high-risk individuals will be identified through investigative leads, community service organizations and confidential informants.

In spite of this, PPB officers said law enforcement members had become more reluctant to take on tasks that could lead to controversy or criticism. The bureau has had to endure criticism from politicians and activists on both sides of the political spectrum and the threat of late-night street violence. (Related: Law enforcement officers in Portland doxed by Antifa.)

Furthermore, police departments across the country have seen a rise in retirements and resignations. A June survey by the law enforcement think tank Police Executive Research Forum found that more police officers left the force. According to its survey, there was an 18 percent increase in resignations and a 45 percent increase in retirements from April 2020 through March 2021 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Shootings.news has more stories about the consequences of cities such as Portland defunding their police forces.

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