Most homicides due to gangs

Gang activity is nothing new for Gresham, but it’s been getting worse, and a new approach is needed that includes more than law enforcement, said Joe Walsh, the city’s gang prevention policy adviser.

Along with law enforcement, it’s important to address the problem at its roots, Walsh said. A gang summit, “Gang Prevention and Enforcement Summit,” will be held from 10-11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 1, at Gresham City Hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

Walsh said gang activity began in Gresham about 25 years ago, and there has been an ebb and flow, with some years having more gang crime than others.

“But it’s been getting worse in recent years, more violent,” he said.

Most striking is the number of homicides in recent years that are gang related. The city had seven homicides last year, most of them gang-related.

“We’ve got to be doing more than a law enforcement presence,” Walsh said.

The city has a long-standing Gang Assessment Team composed of Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview police departments, but now the team has an added direction.

“What’s new is this stronger focus from the city on prevention and intervention,” he said. “We want to be more collaborative with agencies that work with youth and families so we can prevent them from going down that path.”

Walsh said the Boys & Girls Clubs offer many gang prevention-based programs to high-need and low-income kids. The summit also includes the Portland Opportunity Industrialization Center (POIC) in Portland, which provides alternative education for students who haven’t been able to stay in high school.

“They do a good job of educating to get them through high school, develop skills and get jobs,” Walsh said. “It’s first-level street outreach work. They have a full-time person who rides the MAX, visits schools, engages students, builds relationships, carries a caseload and targets kids who are gang involved or on the fence and willing to do something different.”

The goal is to get young people to finish high school and then get a job or go on to higher education, he said.

“They may have other needs, maybe anger management intervention, to make it easy for young people to choose the right path through POIC,” he said.

Participants in the summit will include Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill, Traci Rose of Boys & Girls Clubs, Joe McFerrin of Portland Opportunities Industrial Center and Walsh.

Speakers will talk about the latest gang trends, outline their plans to address the issue and release a shared, collaborative plan to address gang issues in Gresham.

“Gangs are not new in Gresham and East Multnomah County, and we know that combating them effectively requires collaboration among multiple agencies, and a solid plan,” Bemis said in a press release. “This summit will mark important milestones on both of these fronts and will give the public an opportunity to learn more about our approach to gang prevention and enforcement.”

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