U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams threw his support behind the Portland Police Bureau's Gun Violence Reduction Team, which has faced calls for elimination from City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
In a letter sent to Portland City Council, Williams argues that the team, which used to be known as the Gang Enforcement Task Force, works with other law enforcement agencies in the region to respond to gun violence.
"The Gun Violence Reduction Team has been a critical partner in the Portland Area Crime Gun Initiative and officers have been active in training other investigators in Oregon and Washington," Williams says. "Local and federal partners have committed resources to this effort for the benefit of the community including providing needed training and federally funded equipment for investigators."
Last week, Hardesty suggested scrapping the Gun Violence Reduction Team and reassigning the 28 officers on the unit to patrol duty to fill in gaps from short staffing. The understaffed bureau has more than 100 open positions.
Hardesty has pointed to disproportionate contact with black Portlanders and little evidence of success as reasons to cut the unit.
"The Gang Enforcement Team has rebranded its name to the 'Gun Violence Reduction Team,'" Hardesty wrote on Twitter. "There is no information about how the team is different other than its name. We should move the the 28 officers back to patrol, rather than fund a team that has been known to racially profile."
The Gang Enforcement Team has rebranded its name to the "Gun Violence Reduction Team." There is no information about how the team is different other than its name. We should move the the 28 officers back to patrol, rather than fund a team that has been known to racially profile.— Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty (@JoAnnPDX) May 10, 2019
Hardesty's criticism received support from Urban League of Portland's Nkenge Harmon Johnson, who said it was "past time" to eliminate the team.
But other public officials have voiced support for keeping the Gun Violence Reduction Team. Chief Danielle Outlaw took to Twitter to praise the unit. PPB released data about how many gang-related shootings the team has investigated and projected that there will be far more gang-related shootings this year than in 2018.