Gangs recruit early, get busy in summer
While the level of youth gang activity has remained relatively stagnant for about four years, city leaders say positive outreach work is essential because gangs aren't going away anytime soon.
In the past two weeks, for example, there were nine separate incidents in Northeast Precinct involving either gang graffiti, confrontations between opposing gang members and shootings at residences or in cars.
Citywide, Portland police officers respond to about 150 to 160 firearm reports Ñ ranging from random discharging to criminal acts Ñ each month, most of which are not gang-related.
Sgt. Dave Anderson of the Youth Gun Anti-Violence Task Force says the current level of activity isn't cause for alarm.
'It's nothing really extraordinary,' he said. 'The city's big, and there's just a background level of that kind of activity. It always exists.'
Still, Anderson said, his five-member team and other outreach workers and crime specialists are always watching for indications that violence levels might rise.
Gang crimes traditionally increase during the summer because of warmer weather, more hours of daylight and, typically, a spike in street activity.
Police also are closely monitoring the effect of a new policy of officers' citing, rather than arresting, people charged with minor offenses. The policy stems from the fact that Multnomah County jails are overcrowded and the desire to make room for more serious offenders.
Yet the policy is likely to affect the level of gang violence, Anderson said.
Traditionally, someone involved in a shooting will have had more than two dozen contacts or arrests with police officers on drug, firearm or theft charges before the shooting.
Before last fall's mothballing of the Troutdale Corrections Facility, 'these minor level-crimes people were actually sitting in jail' on charges such as identity theft and parole violations, he said. 'As of a month ago, people aren't staying anymore, which means those people are out on the street.'
Kids are being exposed to gang activity at an earlier age, said officer Ron Cash, who coordinates Portland's Gang Resistance Education and Training program. He said the program used to target seventh- and eighth-graders when it began in Portland in 1994; now it is targeting sixth-graders.
'It's looking bleak for young people,' said officer Dave Barrios, a gang enforcement officer for more than 28 years. 'Today, when the going gets tough and there's no one to help you, they go to jail.'
Or in some cases, they'll stay on the street.