During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Ted Wheeler said city leaders have been discussing bringing back the Gun Violence Reduction Team to the Portland Police Bureau in some form, and that Portlanders can expect an announcement as early as Monday.
Wheeler told reporters that he "absolutely" believes there needs to be some sort of team within the Portland Police Bureau that focuses specifically on gun violence.
"There were critical components of the GVRT that should be retained. Obviously, the investigative aspects of that, the community relationship piece is really important," Wheeler said. "In terms of how to strengthen and even expand the net of communications and coordination and support that we have with the community…that can all be done through the office of gun violence prevention."
That's an about-face from two months ago. Following calls for criminal justice reform and a pledge to redirect $12 million from the Police Bureau's budget to communities of color, Wheeler agreed in June to disband the GVRT, which critics say disproportionately targeted young Black men.
"This moment has given us a historic opportunity to reimagine what policing and public safety looks like in our community," Wheeler said in June.
But today, he took a different tone. That shift follows a historic spike in gun violence in Portland. Last month, there were 15 homicides in Portland—the largest monthly tally the city has seen in 30 years, WW previously reported.
The shift in tone also follows last night's activities outside of the Portland Police Bureau's East Precinct, where police claim protesters barricaded and set fire to the building, which was occupied by at least 20 officers at the time (it is unclear if a fire was actually set). Police dispersed the crowd by deploying CS gas and bull-rushing the crowd. The bureau made at least eight arrests of protesters.
During the press conference, Wheeler slammed protesters for last night's actions.
"Don't think for a moment that, if you are participating in this activity, you are not being a prop for the reelection campaign of Donald Trump," Wheeler said. "Because you absolutely are. You are creating the B-roll film that will be used in ads nationally to help Donald Trump during his campaign. If you don't want to be part of that, then don't show up."
Wheeler noted that when the GVRT disbanded in June, the city did not lay off the 35 officers who made up the team, and that he and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell have discussed how to best reassign them.
"We need to talk to the Police Bureau about how we are going to best support the efforts around gun violence reduction with the Portland Police Bureau," Wheeler said.
Wheeler and Lovell aren't the only leaders calling to bring back the GVRT in some form. On Wednesday, Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner drew a direct correlation between defunding the GVRT and the spike in homicides in Portland.
"The Gun Violence Reduction Team was on the chopping block and has been disbanded. Mayor Wheeler called it a 'work in progress,' but the experiment has proven a failure with deadly consequences," Turner said in an Aug. 5 statement. "They have been the Portland Police Bureau's driving force behind keeping the number of shootings down. They were trusted by community members as a conduit of information related to gang violence in the city of Portland."
For years, criminal justice reform advocates like City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty have pointed to racial issues within the GVRT. During a June 5 rally, Hardesty told hundreds of protesters that 52% of GVRT's stops were of Black people: "That just makes no sense," she told the crowd.
But now, Wheeler said, the strides taken to disband the GVRT could be undone as soon as next week.
"I actually wanted to have a press conference yesterday or today related to this," Wheeler said. "I am working with the chief and others in the bureau to come up with what we believe is a workable plan that we can implement immediately."