Two people died and multiple people were injured, some critically, in four different early morning shootings on Saturday in Portland, Oregon, a city that has seen gun violence and associated homicide rates soar in the past six months.
Mayor Ted Wheeler called the rash of shootings a “pandemic” and said he would push hard for more officers and resources for the Portland Police Bureau, which has lost 125 sworn officers in the past year and faces news rounds
of retiring officers in coming months.
The city was roiled by protests against police brutality and racial injustice for months following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died after a white officer held a knee to his neck.
In the wake of sustained protests and calls to defund the police last summer, Portland’s City Commission cut some funding and disbanded the gun violence reduction unit.
Since then, Chief Chuck Lovell has assembled new teams aimed at curbing gun violence and solving a rash of shootings through both investigation and proactive intervention before shootings happen.
Some residents, however, question if that’s enough as the city marked its 50th and 51st homicides on Saturday.
There have been about 570 shooting incidents in Portland so far this year- more than twice the number recorded in the same time period last year. Police have said that about half of those shootings were gang-related.
Lovell said it was too early to call Saturday’s shooting gang-related.
“We’ve had many years of growth as a city and a shrinking police force (and) you can only go so long in that trend before you hit a tipping point,” he said.
“If you go back to yesterday, we’ve had 11 shootings incidents resulting in 13 people injured or killed and that’s in a span of 38 hours. Not only is this shocking, all these calls really tax resources.”
The first calls about the latest gun violence came in just after 2.10 am. Officers responded to a pod of food trucks in a popular pedestrian area in downtown Portland to find chaos.
Seven people were injured, including an 18-year-old woman who later died at a hospital. The other six people are expected to survive.
Lovell said there may be other victims who left on their own. He called on anyone who witnessed the incident or had cell phone video or photos of the area before, during and after the shooting to contact police. No arrests have been made.
“We all want to know what happened and who did this and why, and I pledge that more information will come out as soon as possible. Investigators think there might be more victims and witnesses who left the scene, which is understandable given how terrifying and hectic that scene was,” he said.
A short time later, police in another part of the city responded to reports of shots fired and believe someone was injured, but a police canine could not turn up any victims, he said.
About four hours later, there were two more shootings. One man was killed and a woman was critically injured and hospitalised, he said.
Filiberto Saldana was busy cooking in his food truck when he heard gunshots early Saturday, he told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“The next thing I know I heard people running,” he said, adding that a dark blue car took off right after the gunshots. “We just saw a car going fast in front of us.”
In the past 10 months, the department has experienced a rapid turnover on its police force and has its lowest staffing levels in decades.
Many of the officers who have left cited low morale and burnout from nightly racial justice protests that ended in confrontation and plumes of teargas.
Despite police pleas for more personnel, city leaders last year slashed USD 27 million from the police budget USD 11 million due to the pandemic-caused budget crisis and USD 15 million amid calls to defund the police vowing to devote money to community groups working to curb gun violence.
Wheeler, the mayor, said on Saturday that was still possible while also bolstering police resources.
He said he would push for a five-year plan to boost officers’ numbers while at the same time responding to protesters’ calls to make the force more transparent and accountable.
“It’s not an either-or. It’s a both-and,” he said of the dueling demands on public safety.
“Right now what I see is a Police Bureau that does not have the adequate number of personnel or resources to be successful in their job and I’m going to fight hard to make sure that they do.”