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Gang violence predicted to top 2012 levels

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Six more officers were recently assigned to the Gang Enforcement Team after a spike in shootings.Gang violence in Portland is on track to be the highest in 13 years , according to new numbers released by the Portland Police Bureau.

As of July 15, the Gang Enforcement Team has begun investigating 92 incidents of gang violence. The highest number since 2002 was 118 incident for all 2012, a total that will be easily broken if the trend continues.

"You can do the math with five months still to go in the year," says Tom Peavey, Mayor Charlie Hales' policy manager for youth violence protection.

The surge this year began in May when 25 incidents were classified as gang related violence. That is the largest monthly total in the past three years, according to the numbers released at the July 17 meeting of the Community Peace Collaborative at North Precinct.

According to the figures, gang violence in Portland began significantly increasing in 2008, when the number of incidents jumped from 40 to 68. It took another leap in 2010 to 93 and has been been above 100 incidents a year since then.

"It's not just Portland," Peavey told the bi-weekly gathering of criminal justice officials, youth service providers and community activists. "The same thing has been happening in other cities the size of Portland since 2010."

The increase is testing the ability of the bureau to respond, according to Assistant Portland Police Chief Kevin Modica. The bureau recently transferred six officers and a sergeant to GET from other duties to help deal with the rise in gang shootings and other acts of violence.

"We only have around 400 patrol officers to cover three shifts and staff speciality units," Modica said at the meeting. "I wouldn't say we don't have enough officers, but we're a very lean organization."

The meeting also included a rundown of the 11 incidents accepted by GET between July 3 and 15. They included the fatal shooting July 12 shooting of Anthony Jackson, 19, in Southeast Portland. His death is the 20th homicide in town so far this year.

Other incidents included a July 7 shooting that wounded a 17-year-old in Northeast Portland and five drive-by shootings were no one was injured.

Although Peavey admits incidents of gang related violence are likely to top 118 this year, he says the Mayor's Office and Portland Police Bureau are working hard to keep them as low as possible.

Several initiatives were highlighted at the meeting, including a new program pushed by Hales to eliminate fees at community centers so more young people can go to them. The Community Center Youth Pass pilot Program resulted in 1,800 young people signing up at the Matt Dishman Community Center in North Program. It was recently expanded to include the East Portland Community Center.

Despite the increase it gang related violence since 2008, it is still below the peaks set in the 1990s.