Posted on August 7, 2020

What’s Driving the Spike in Portland Gun Violence?

Nigel Jaquiss, Willamette Weekly, August 5, 2020

In July, Portland saw the most homicides in one month—15—that this city has experienced in 30 years.

Those killings came amid a maelstrom of events, including the disbanding of the Portland Police Bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team on July 1, a significant rise in the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, a second month of nightly protests of police brutality, and President Donald Trump sending federal forces to Portland. {snip}

We spoke to three experts about the surge in gun violence to see what they made of it. Here’s what they told us.

1. When it comes to gun violence, Portland isn’t special.

{snip} The Wall Street Journal reported Aug. 3 that the homicide rate is way up in most big U.S. cities {snip}


2. In the short term, disbanding the city’s Gun Violence Reduction Team has left a vacuum among police.

The spate of gun violence came in the month after the Portland City Council ordered the Police Bureau to scrap GVRT because of concerns about racist policing.

Erika Preuitt, director of Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, says she strongly supports police reform, but she also thinks cutting GVRT opened the door to wanton shootings, which disproportionately harm people the policy decision was supposed to benefit.

“When we defund, it leaves a vacuum and particularly impacts our communities of color,” Preuitt says. “Because there is less police presence and no coordinated response, there are more people in the community being bold about their criminal activity and feeling like there are no consequences.”


3. It’s too soon to draw any conclusions.

Professor Brian Renauer, director of Portland State University’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute, says taking one month or even a few months of data and trying to draw any substantive conclusions from it is a mistake.


He’s also skeptical that disbanding GVRT will have lasting consequences. “No study every showed that the GVRT had an impact,” Renauer says, noting that homicides fluctuated significantly while the team and its predecessor, the Gang Enforcement Team, operated.