As I waded through the lengthy City Auditor’s reports on the Gang Enforcement Team (GET) 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 hard working, already, short-staffed officers.
Just yesterday afternoon, in a densely populated residential area of NE Portland, blocks away from a City park where kids on spring break were playing, and within a densely populated residential area, GET 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 the 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 the house and fired multiple rounds at the residence. None of the occupants inside was hit by gunfire but two houses sustained damage. These are examples of a disturbing and dangerous trend: Gang shootings are on the rise.
In his response to the auditor’s reports, Mayor 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 GET racially profiles members of our African American community. The auditor insinuates that GET is harming – not helping – our communities, especially the African American community. Yet, the data shows that 80% of known victims of gang shootings in 2016 were African American. There is a clear correlation between GET subject stops and gang shooting locations. It is evident that GET is visibly and proactively policing hot spots to prevent further violence and solve prior crimes involving gang violence. It only makes common sense that GET 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 unit’s efforts to build relationships have been instrumental in its collection of needed intelligence, its ability to intercede at critical points, and ultimately its ability to have an impact within the community.” – Mayor Wheeler
The real work of the Gang Enforcement Team:
- GET uniformed officers, suppress violence, enforce laws, and develop intelligence, with an intentional focus on gang members and associates at the street level. GET officers also focus on intervention and prevention strategies as well as community engagement opportunities.
- GET conducts many proactive stops, generally targeted enforcement, based on intelligence. GET does not randomly stop minorities but rather uses their collective knowledge, which is always changing and evolving, to focus on stopping the right people that are causing the current violence in our City.
- GET investigates the most dangerous crimes that affect some of our most marginalized and disaffected community members.
- GET has built great rapport and respect with the African American community as a whole. Many African American leaders and families know our officers by name and face. GET officers are present during these violent gang encounters, allowing them to provide support to the victims, witnesses, and families. GET provides long term follow through and support for those in the community that are negatively impacted by gang violence.
- GET provides street level intelligence to detectives and investigators from GET, homicide, robbery, assault, sex crimes, human trafficking, the precincts, and outside agencies. GET is contacted regularly to identify people or locate those wanted for serious crimes by other investigators.
- GET has built long term relationships with both local and federal prosecutors. GET has the only current, qualified gang expert to testify in court on gang related cases. GET has built long term relationships with probation and parole officers from both the adult and juvenile side, working with them weekly to contact offenders and prosecute cases that are difficult and affect the entire community.
- GET meets bi-weekly with gang outreach workers, other law enforcement agencies, Portland Parks, and Tri-Met. This is a very unique relationship that has been built through years of collaboration. They routinely share intelligence and identify prevention strategies. This meeting is supported by the Mayor’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention, local faith-based leaders, and leaders in the community.
- GET takes a full team approach to do walk-throughs of locations where gang members gather such as bars/clubs, concerts, and picnic/BBQs. In conducting these walk-throughs, they recognize gang members in general, know who is wanted, know who is on probation or parole, and know who may be carrying firearms, etc.
- GET’s knowledge of gang histories, gang alliances, and gang enemies is extensive, and it takes years and constant follow up to understand these complicated connections. Their interdictions of guns, which can prevent the next shooting, are many times based off this acquired knowledge.
- GET has a rapport with most gang members, their families, and associates, which helps in getting cooperation and accomplishing tasks. GET’s ability to show up on scene and call out gang members by name, knowing who is on probation or parole, etc. can be a game changer when dealing with a difficult group or potentially volatile situation.
- GET seizes firearms from traffic or pedestrian stops and every gun taken off the street is a gun that cannot be used against another citizen or officer. The seizure of guns from gang members has been done with a high level of prosecution, but with a low level of force, and with few complaints. Many of these guns are related to multiple attempted murder or murder cases. Good team work, sound tactics, good communication, and honest debriefs have been key to safely recovery these firearms.
- GET is involved in community engagement through numerous presentations to the community at schools, businesses, community groups, neighborhood associations, colleges, other law enforcement agencies, and youth outreach organizations. GET has built relationships and trust with many different segments of the community through these presentations and has been asked to return many times.
- GET is involved in Gang Intervention and Prevention through the Youth Referral Program, recommending at risk youth for counseling, education, employment, mentoring, etc. In working with the Office of Youth Violence Prevention, these at risk youth are then connected with mentors who help them get back on track and help them stay away from the influences of the gang life.
The Gang Enforcement Team 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 Outlaw has offered, “increased gang intelligence, service/treatment referrals for gang impacted individuals wishing to leave the gang life style, 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.