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County connects the dots on gangs

Resources shift to East County as crime migrates, stats spike

When a coalition of organizations this summer released what may be the most comprehensive report ever put together on Multnomah County gangs, its executive summary noted that “public safety agencies have lacked a centralized method for identifying and tracking gangs.”

That same report said that gang activity had found a new hotspot — the Rockwood neighborhood in Gresham. This week, the Multnomah County District Attorney announced a new strategy aimed primarily at gaining an upper hand against gang members who have been steadily drifting to east Multnomah County from their more traditional inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods.

The new Prosecution and Law Enforcement Unified Strategy (PLUS) is intended to help prosecutors from a number of backgrounds partner with police to gather information and make connections about gang members in East County.

“This is the first time the district attorney and law enforcement together have tried — in a very thoughtful manner — to use data to determine who are the drivers of crime in an area of town that has high gang violent crime,” says senior deputy district attorney Jim Hayden, who will oversee the effort.

Intelligence about gang members and gang associates operating out of East County has been spotty until recently, according to Hayden. The East Metro Gang Enforcement Team has documented 450 gang members in east Multnomah County but estimates there may be as many as 2,250 in all.

The new policy could narrow that gap. Hayden says it may include looking at a gang shooting where three or more people are associated with the shooter. “Let’s look at these guys and who else they have been with when things happened,” Hayden says. “We need to start drawing the dots and connections between all these people, and determine if there are people we are not focusing on who are driving the crimes.”

The new policy is part of a steady shift of gang resources to East County that has taken place in recent years, according to Hayden.

That includes increased collaboration between the DA and Gresham police, according to Joe Walsh, Gresham gang prevention policy adviser. In 2013 gang violence spiked in Gresham, Walsh says, with six gang-connected homicides (out of a total of seven Gresham homicides). In response, in December 2013, Gresham police hired a gang outreach specialist to work with Portland gang outreach specialists. In early 2014, Gresham police hired Walsh to coordinate its gang prevention efforts.

Three weeks ago, Gresham police were awarded two new grants in the battle against gangs, Walsh says. One will pay for two officers to focus on truancy and work with students who might be lured into gangs, as well as with their teachers and families. A second grant will provide money for late-night basketball for at-risk youth as well as a conflict resolution program for Gresham youth.

All of which, including the DA’s new intelligence strategy, are part of an overall plan that involves “getting tougher on crime and getting better on intervention and suppression,” according to Walsh. “It’s kind of a recognition that there are a few bad actors causing a disproportionate amount of problems. They want to take this model that has worked really well in North Portland, this intelligence-driven prosecution model, and try it out here in Rockwood.”

Countywide, violent crime increased by only 1 percent in Multnomah County from 2011 to 2013. But in Rockwood, it increased by 62 percent.

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