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Gangs turn up the heat early this year

Police track a score of shootings, one death
by: JIM CLARK, Tonya Dickens stands in Northeast Portland within a few blocks of some recent instances of suspected gang violence. Much of the winter activity has clustered between Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 5.

Summer has started early this year - if you go by the bullets.

Gang violence, normally a hot-weather phenomenon for Portland, started climbing in December and has not slowed down since.

Between December and February, police recorded 22 gang-related incidents, a figure likely to rise as other cases are investigated. That toll includes two assaults, 21 shootings and 13 injured - one fatally.

It could have been much worse: In four incidents, bullets were fired at homes that had children inside.

In contrast, there were just 10 gang-related incidents, including one homicide, in the same period last year.

Typically, police say that labeling such incidents as gang violence can be misleading, because rather than being about gangs many are more about personal feuds and payback.

This year, however, is different.

'That's what troubles us,' Sgt. Mike Leloff of the Portland Police Bureau said. 'Most of these are very clearly motivated by the gang affiliations.'

For instance, on Feb. 2, 18-year-old Jerrotaye Pratcher encountered a 20-year-old man at the corner of North Fessenden Street and Richmond Avenue, and shot him for stepping on a blue hat - thus disrespecting the Crip colors.

In other incidents, police say gang members have asked a stranger's affiliation, then attacked him for invading their 'turf.'

On Feb. 8, police say, a carload of Sur Treces Califas members went looking for rival gang members to fight. They encountered a group affiliated with the Paso Robles Boyz and the CFMs, or Crazy (expletive) Mexicans - thus leading to a 'running gun battle,' Leloff said.

Moreover, the recent wave of violence already is spawning payback.

According to Leloff, a man recently arrested in connection with a shooting at Peninsula Park told officers, 'I shot at him because he shot at me three weeks ago.'

Spike or trend?

Observers disagree on whether the three-month surge will lead to a sustained escalation of violence or is just a temporary spike.

'This is a spike, not a trend,' said Rob Ingram, head of Mayor Tom Potter's Office of Youth Violence Prevention. 'We've researched the numbers, and this February looks like February 2004.'

Leloff, however, is not so sure whether this is just a temporary blip. 'That's what we're trying to find out,' he said.

Joe Santos, a North Precinct officer who spent years policing gangs for the bureau's Gang Enforcement Team, thinks it's quite possibly a trend.

'Typically once it starts like this, it really never ends,' he said, adding that from what he's seen on the job, 'There's a lot of gang kids kind of spreading their wings.'

Police say the incidents predominantly involve African-American gangs. At least six of the shootings involved Latino gangs, however.

Officer Russ Corno, the gang team intelligence officer, said there are two things going on: The number of Latino gang members keeps going up, and a new generation of younger black kids is joining gangs.

Events cluster, but not people

The Portland Police Bureau has mapped the incidents, showing that the majority of them took place in a narrow swath between Interstate 5 and Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Many of the people involved in the inner Northeast incidents do not live there, according to police and other gang-outreach workers. For instance, Santos responded to an incident at Peninsula Park a few weeks ago; talking to the youths there he found they came from all over the region - including Beaverton and Gresham.

'It's a bigger problem, and it's a more geographically dispersed problem,' Santos said.

Many officers say the police gang team has been overwhelmed by the more dispersed and diverse array of gangs. Today the team numbers 15 rank-and-file officers, compared to 27 a decade ago. Leloff, however, pointed out that violence today is a fraction of what it was then.

In response to the surge of violence, Chief Rosie Sizer temporarily has beefed up the gang team by two officers and two detectives.

'We're hoping we can make a dent in it,' Leloff said.

Staffing down at programs

Ingram said the solution will require more than cops, and has a lot to do with a lack of positive role models. For instance, he said sons of convicted gang members are growing up idolizing their incarcerated fathers, and often follow in their footsteps.

'These shootings are symptoms,' he said.

The ranks of social workers helping at-risk kids are as depleted as are the police.

The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods used to employ nine gang outreach workers. Now it employs two. One of those two, Ron Macias, says the low staffing levels will be hard to recover from, since many of the kids already have become accustomed to making bad choices.

With no positive role models around, 'All of a sudden, they've got a new way of thinking,' he said.

The people who made change happen for the better are not around anymore, said longtime gang outreach worker Tonya Dickens of Brothers and Sisters Keepers, adding that 'When you keep cutting all these things, how do you expect to keep the change going?'

Last summer, she said, was the first time in 20 years that Northeast Portland's Youth Employment Institute, an alternative school, did not have the money to give jobs to at-risk kids.

'You show me someone on the street who has nothing to do, and I'll show you someone who will find something to do,' she said.

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Portland gang-related events

December 2007-February 2008

1. 8:10 p.m. Dec. 14

7400 block Northeast Sixth Avenue
Gang associate shot twice while returning home.

2. 9:25 p.m. Dec. 20

6400 block Northeast 27th Avenue
Shots fired at house occupied by three adults, one child.

3. 4:18 a.m. Dec. 22

5200 block Northeast 42nd Avenue
Five injured, 36 shots fired at an after-hours club.

4. 5:06 p.m. Dec. 22

8900 block North Vancouver Avenue
Victim shot twice.

5. 11:18 p.m. Dec. 27

3600 block Southeast Powell Boulevard
Shots fired in parking lot.

6. 8:28 p.m. Dec. 29

6400 block Northeast Killingsworth Street
Man shot twice standing outside his home.

7. 11:48 p.m. Dec. 31

8400 block Northeast Thompson Street
Man, age 25, shot and killed.

8. 6:21 p.m. Jan. 15

Northeast 72nd Avenue at Killingsworth Street
Person stabbed by gang members.

9. 7:52 p.m. Jan. 16

3800 block North Gantenbein Avenue
Residence shot.

10. 9:42 p.m., Jan. 18

North Borthwick Avenue at Killingsworth Street
Shot fired during fight between gangs.

11. 5:17 a.m. Jan. 23

Northeast MLK Boulevard at Roselawn Street
Gang member shot at bus stop.

12. 10:45 p.m. Jan. 27

Northeast 82nd Avenue Transit Center
Fight breaks out, shots fired.

13. 11:26 a.m. Feb. 2

North Fessenden Street at Richmond Avenue
A 18-year-old gang member shoots a 20-year-old man for apparent disrespect of gang colors.

14. 9:12 p.m. Feb. 2

3500 block North Williams Avenue
Shots fired near nightclub.

15. 2:18 a.m. Feb. 8

3500 block Southeast 122nd Avenue
Shot fired during clash between gang members.

16. 9:03 p.m. Feb. 10

5300 block Northeast Cully Avenue
Gang member shot walking home.

17. 6:27 p.m. Feb. 19

Peninsula Park
Clash between gangs ends with shot fired.

18. 12:13 a.m. Feb. 20

3800 block Northeast Sixth Avenue
Seven bullets fired at residence occupied by adults and children.

19. 5:30 a.m. Feb. 24

5200 block North Commercial Avenue
House shot at while occupied by adults and six children.

20. 8:22 p.m. Feb. 24

6600 block North Albina Avenue
Home occupied by one adult and one child is struck by gunfire

21. 5:15 p.m. Feb. 25

Northeast Eighth Avenue and Wygant Street
Shot fired.

22. 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25

North St. Louis Avenue at Central Street
Three vehicles engage in rolling gun battle.

Source: Portland Police Bureau