Portland Gangs Stoke Rise in Violence as Police Ranks Dwindle

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Portland police are recording multiple shootings a week with 50 to 70 shots fired, and in one case more than 150, as gang attacks and retaliatory shootings throughout the city have resulted in 37 homicides so far this year, more than six times the number recorded in the same period last year, reports the Associated Press. The surge in gang-related violence, which has disproportionately impacted people of color, has been connected to roughly half of Portland’s 470 shootings this year, which have injured more than 140 people. Mayor Ted Wheeler warned last month that perpetrators are being told by gangs to shoot someone within 30 days or be shot and that people are traveling from other states to engage in violence. If nothing changes, Portland will surpass its all-time record for homicides of 70 set in 1987, when the city was in the midst of a gang siege.

While the number of shootings is comparable to the 1990s, police and residents say the boldness of the shooters and amount of shots fired surpass what they have seen before. The rise in violence comes at a time when the Portland Police Bureau’s staffing is at its lowest in decades — the department is more than 100 officers short of “authorized strength,” and the past nine months have seen a rapid turnover in the department, with more than 120 officers leaving due to low morale and burnout from nightly racial justice protests that consistently end in confrontation. Despite police pleas for more personnel, city leaders slashed $27 million from the police budget — $11 million due to the pandemic-caused budget crisis and $15 million amid calls to defund the police.

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