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Police, others work to tackle new gang issues

Our View • Spike in violence can be fought by targeting worst offenders, and outreach
by: L.E. BASKOW, A home along Southeast Division Street near 130th is tagged with gang graffiti. City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and Police Chief Rosie Sizer write that the city is working with other agencies to combat growing gang violence.

Gang violence escalated to frightening levels in the city of Portland and east Multnomah County at the end of last year.

In a 20-day period, there were 10 shootings resulting in three homicides and at least five more incidents where people were shot or injured. As a direct result of gang violence, our community buried three young men during January. Included in this violence were two incidents that rocked the soul of the community: a shooting in the middle of the day, as well as one inside of a church during a funeral.

In response to this disturbing increase in gang activity, the Portland Police Bureau joined in a collaborative multi-agency mission with the Gresham Police Department, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office, faith leaders, gang outreach workers and Portland's Office of Youth Violence Prevention.

This mission, Operation Cool Down, targets and arrests the most violent gang offenders, provides an increased police presence and works closely on outreach efforts in the hopes of deterring potential acts of violence.

As part of this overall operation, Portland police have increased the number of officers on the street by reassigning some to the gang enforcement team, a specially trained detail within the police bureau. This team is also working in close partnership with the bureau's Hotspot Enforcement Action Team, the East Metro Gang Enforcement Team, Multnomah County Parole and Probation, the Metropolitan Gang Task Force and others to ensure we have a coordinated, strengthened and multi-regional approach.

This partnership of law enforcement personnel is working primarily in Northeast Portland, East Portland and Gresham. But they will go wherever they need to in the region to respond quickly to gang violence.

This is a significant change, as it has become apparent that gangs no longer see boundaries and travel where they need to in order to commit violent acts.

Since the start of Operation Cool Down, there continues to be gang activity, but not at the escalated level of December.

Operation Cool Down has made a significant impact, but as with any good response, it must be fluid and we must adjust it to adapt to new trends and changing needs. For example, as we head into spring and as the weather begins to warm, traditionally, the city has seen an increase in gang violence and drug dealing. Therefore, we will be adjusting our law enforcement efforts.

In the coming weeks, we will be out talking to the community about what police and gang outreach workers will be doing and what we need from community members to make their neighborhoods safer.

What also needs to be part of this conversation is how the community can make a long-term impact on gangs and at-risk youth. The law enforcement element is only part of the response. The battle cannot be won by the efforts of the Portland police alone; in order to be successful, we need our entire community to get behind the effort to reduce gang violence.

Together we need to stand up to violence in our communities. We must work toward providing young people who are at risk of becoming gang members with safe, structured alternatives. We need to talk candidly about the deep roots of gangs and why they flourish. We must speak frankly about the cost of silence after the violence. And we must come together to realize that ultimately gang violence affects all of us, even if our house does not have bullet holes or our children are safe walking to school.

Gang violence has changed over the years and now, more than ever, it can directly affect you or your family. In the coming weeks, we will be discussing this topic. We hope you will join in and look for ways to support this community-wide effort.

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman oversees the Portland Police Bureau. Rosie Sizer is Portland's police chief.