Portland police's newly resurrected gun violence team can't find officers to fill unit: report

Homicides surge year after Portland's Gun Violence Reduction Team disbanded last summer amid Black Lives Matter protests

Portland police are struggling to find officers willing to serve on its newly resurrected gun violence unit, which was dismantled over a year ago at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement

The once-prestigious positions on the Portland’s Gun Violence Reduction Team are now considered less desirable due to the added scrutiny that comes with the role.

Homicides have surged since the unit was disbanded last summer after the Portland City Council voted last summer to slash the police bureau’s budget by $15 million. Amid the uptick in gun violence, Mayor Ted Wheeler proposed a new unit in March renamed the "Focused Initiative Team."

Since 14 openings were announced in May, only four police personnel have applied, and none have been assigned, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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Uncertainty around the new role is believed to have also slowed applicants to the gun violence unit, which also includes its own citizen advisory board. And because officials railed against the old unit for alleged racial profiling, job qualifications for the new team include the "ability to identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence."

"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, leader of the Portland Police Association, a union representing rank-and-file officers, told the newspaper. 

Portland has seen 53 homicides so far this year, putting it on track to pass the all-time high of 70 in 1987. As officers were redeployed to ongoing, violent demonstrations at government buildings that stretched from last summer until early this year, a sense of lawlessness grew. Neighborhood patrols suffered and officers grew more hesitant to conduct preventative investigative stops. 

In voting to disband the old team tasked with investigating gun violence last year, Portland officials cited data showing the 52% of stops conducted in 2019 were for Black people, who represent 5.8% of the city’s population. But Jami Resch, assistant chief of the Portland Police Bureau’s investigations branch, argued to the Journal that the unit’s past work was beneficial in minority communities, as shootings have disproportionately impacted the 23% of Portland’s population that is non-White. 

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Police departments across the nation have seen a rise in resignations and retirements as part of the aftermath of sweeping calls by protesters and lawmakers alike to "defund the police." 

From April 2020 through March 2021, Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., recorded an 18% increase in resignations and a 45% increase in retirements compared to the same time period a year prior.