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Portland cops won’t join new gun violence reduction unit after city disbanded it over ‘racial profiling’

Police cruiser in Portland, Oregon (Oregonian file photo/The Oregonian/OregonLive/TNS)
August 02, 2021

Officials in Portland, Oregon are working to re-establish a police unit that focuses on gun violence, but the city is struggling to find officers who want to join the team. The unit was disbanded last year in large part due to “racial profiling.”

According to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, 14 job openings were posted at the Portland Police Department in May for the Focused Initiative Team, a reformation of Portland’s Gun Violence Reduction Team, but only four officers applied. The unit was shut down in 2020 amid calls to defund the police and riots that gripped the city for over 100 consecutive days, but the city is reviving the unit amid a surging homicide rate.

Portland cops say that once desired positions are now avoided due to increased scrutiny, including a citizen-advisory board whose sole focus is the Gun Violence Reduction Team. The old team was disbanded also after city officials accused it of racial profiling. The current job description for the reformed positions includes the ability to combat systemic racism.

“They’re demonizing and vilifying you, and then they want to put you in a unit where you’re under an even bigger microscope,” Daryl Turner, who heads the police union that represents Portland officers, told Wall Street Journal.

After the city ended the gun violence reduction team, homicides jumped, and with 53 homicides so far in 2021, Portland will likely surpass its all-time high of 70 from 1987, Portland police officials said.

Recognizing the growing issue, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced the new unit in March, adding that it would also aim to lower tensions with residents. Wheeler also noted that an 11-member citizen-advisory board would oversee the new unit.

An internal post about the Focused Initiative Team said the unit would target gun violence, but added that it would also necessitate the “ability to identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence,” the Wall Street Journal reported.  

“Martin Luther King couldn’t dismantle systematic racism. Now you want a cop to do it?” a veteran Portland officer said about the new team. “Nobody wants to be part of something that’s set up for failure.”

The veteran officer added that his fellow cops “are incredibly hesitant to do anything proactive because either they have a complaint filed against them or every stop is a fight.”  

Lionel Irving, a Portland nonprofit leader and member of the oversight committee in charge of the new unit, said he hopes the team will focus on violent group leaders rather than the previously used “stop-and-frisk” approach.

Irving noted that the dwindling police presence in Portland has “created a sense of lawlessness” in the city.