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Gang team gets early Christmas present

Karen Minnis helps East County get $100,000 for officers

It's Christmas a little early for local police officers who work on the region's gang enforcement team.

The Legislature's Emergency Board, which allocates money to state agencies when the Legislature isn't in session, approved $100,000 for the Multnomah County East Metro Gang Enforcement Team on Friday, Dec. 1.

'This was truly unexpected,' said Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso. Current state funding would run out in June.

'What this allows is an extension of a couple months,' Piluso said.

It also is a well-timed extension as gang activity picks up in summer months, Piluso added.

In what could be described as her last hurrah as House Speaker, Rep. Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, said garnering more gang enforcement funding was at the top of her list of priorities as her time as Speaker of the House comes to an end.

Minnis, who voters re-elected to District 49, lost her House Speaker status when Democrats gained control of both the House and Senate during the Nov. 7 election. As the majority party, House Democrats, not Republicans, choose the House Speaker. They are expected to elect Rep. Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, to the post on Monday, Jan. 8, the first day of the new Legislative session.

Before then, 'I wanted to be able to direct money their way to make sure they have the tools to continue to keep up the good job that they've done,' Minnis said.

Gang funding is more critical than ever for East County, Minnis said. Although legislators from North and Northeast Portland offer evidence that gang activity is on the wane in their districts, Minnis said the problem seems to be migrating to East County.

With Minnis' guidance, the Legislature in early January 2005 provided $7.5 million for a regional East County gang enforcement task force after Minnis and other local legislators toured East County's gang lands.

This summer, the Legislature budgeted another $7.5 million for the eight-member task force, which includes detectives from Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.

On Friday, the Emergency Board approved $1.35 million in grants to combat gang violence and methamphateamine use. The board specifically awarded $100,000 grants to East County's gang enforcement team, as well as the Canby Police Department and the Marion County Methamphetamine Strike Force.

Minnis said approximately $1 million is still available for those who qualify for the grant funding. In addition, the board approved $300,000 for statewide senior and disability programs. The money was needed due to a budgeting error in the Department of Human Services. Instead of having agencies absorb the cost, Minnis said they needed to be made whole and the board agreed.

Piluso said she wasn't counting on state funding for gang enforcement during the next fiscal year. Instead, she planned to ask Gresham budget committee members next spring for gang enforcement funding as part of the 2007-08 budget. Now she can prorate her request, she said.