My View: Police gang team priotizes public safety
As I waded through the lengthy city auditor's reports on the Gang Enforcement Team of the Portland Police Bureau, I was amazed at how narrow the auditor's field of vision is on the issue of gang and gun violence in our vulnerable communities.
These reports are another example of an elected official, a bureaucrat, without subject matter expertise or authority, recommending policy changes, additional tracking and reporting, and more work for the hardworking, already short-staffed officers.
The week before last, in a densely populated residential area of Northeast Portland, blocks away from a city park where kids on spring break were playing, the Gang Enforcement Team responded to what appears to be a drive-by-shooting, where the shooter sprayed multiple rounds at a person sitting in his car. Thankfully, no innocent bystanders were injured and the victim was not wounded or killed.
More bullets flew through our city overnight, with the Gang Enforcement Team investigating three shootings. In the first, two vehicles were chasing each other, with multiple gunshots coming from the occupants of one or both vehicles. Luckily, no one was injured.
In the second shooting, an unknown subject in a parking lot fired a gun at a group of people, then ran from the area. The victims also left the area. No injuries were reported, but the building and multiple vehicles were struck by gunfire.
In the third, an unknown subject stood in front of a house and fired multiple rounds at the residence. None of the occupants inside were hit by gunfire, but two houses suffered damage. These are examples of a disturbing and dangerous trend.
In his response to the auditor's reports, Mayor Ted Wheeler notes not only the disturbing statistics involving gang-related shootings (there were 121 in 2017), but also the reality that gang-related shootings spark fear in our communities.
Don't be fooled. The Gang Enforcement Team does not racially profile and the auditor could not reach that conclusion.
The 74 pages of the auditor's reports come to a rather simple resolve: We need more data before we can draw the conclusion that the team racially profiles members of our African-American community.
The auditor insinuates that the Gang Enforcemen Team is harming — not helping — our communities, especially the African-American community. Yet, the data shows that 80 percent of known victims of gang shootings in 2016 were African-American.
There is a clear correlation between Gang Enforcement Team subject stops and gang shooting locations. It is evident that the team is visibly and proactively policing hot spots to prevent further violence and solve prior crimes involving gang violence. It only makes common sense that the team works proactively in areas where gang violence is on the rise.
The Gang Enforcement Team has a long track record of conducting extremely dangerous work involving some of the most dangerous armed suspects, and using minimal, low levels of force during those interactions.
The Gang Enforcement Team's focus is not traffic stops; their focus is community safety.
We must be thoughtful and use common sense with the lens through which we measure the performance of crime prevention and investigations in our city.
When measuring the effectiveness of the Gang Enforcement Team, we should do so through the lens Chief Danielle Outlaw has offered: "increased gang intelligence, service/treatment referrals for gang-impacted individuals wishing to leave the gang lifestyle, proactive intervention prior to a violent act occurring, and/or an arrest."
The Gang Enforcement Team has provided the highest level of service over the years. They've continued to evolve and change with the growing needs of the diverse communities they serve. The auditor's reports fail to acknowledge the policy changes and the strategic advances already underway.
The Gang Enforcement Team and the rank and file officers and investigators of the Portland Police Bureau prioritize public safety by continuing to build trust and relationships in all of our communities.