Gresham and outer East Portland now have an extra crime-fighting weapon in their collective arsenal.

Starting last week, Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez began spending one to two days a week based out of the new East County Courthouse to focus on prosecuting crimes taking place in Rosewood, a high-density area with a growing crime rate that straddles the border of Portland and Gresham along 162nd Avenue.

When Gresham’s new police facility opens, possibly by the end of the year, Vasquez will move his base of operations there.

The move brings Vasquez full circle in his nearly 12-year career in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.

Most recently, he’s focused on high-profile child abuse cases, including the 2010 death of Oleander Labier, a 5-year-old Gresham girl who was starved, tortured and beaten to death by her biological father while her stepmother turned a blind eye. But he also spent two years prosecuting misdemeanors at the now closed Gresham Courthouse on Powell Boulevard that the new East County Courthouse replaces.

Vasquez served as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods targeting youth gang and gun crimes and was a neighborhood deputy district attorney representing many Southeast Portland neighborhoods.

The move is part of an effort by Multnomah County’s newly elected District Attorney Rod Underhill to help combat the shift in crime from North Portland to Gresham.

When Underhill took the reins from Mike Schrunk, the county’s longtime district attorney who retired Jan. 1, he asked a simple question: What is being done at the prosecutorial level to help combat East County’s growing crime rates?

“Obviously not enough,” he said, adding that assigning a deputy district attorney to Rosewood is just part of an effort to address the crime trend.

Vasquez will focus on Rosewood cases — everything from homicides to drug arrests to gang issues. But he also will network with the community to build connections that could get budding criminals back on the right track by either “getting them the services they need or the additional law enforcement attention they need,” Vasquez said.

On the other end of the spectrum, he could hold more hardened criminals fully accountable.

Vasquez will work in collaboration with Brenda Allen, a neighborhood district attorney who works with police in Gresham, Fairview and Troutdale to prosecute cases.

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