Newly obtained documents show that three members of Portland's City Council on March 26 countered Mayor Ted Wheeler's $2 million proposal for a team of uniformed officers to curb gun violence in the city with their own proposal: more money, but no police.
In the $4.9 million proposal, obtained today by WW, Commissioners Carmen Rubio, Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan requested the city immediately allocate $3.5 million directly to groups that are "working with the communities impacted by gun violence and have an established partnership with the city," as well as $1.4 million to expand park ranger patrols.
The Oregonian first reported the existence of the memo Wednesday.
The memo, sent to Wheeler last week and obtained by WW through a public records request, recommends increasing foot patrols by Portland park rangers—"seven days a week, including graveyard shifts." Those rangers aren't armed but have the authority to kick people out of city parks, where several of the city's most alarming homicides have occurred this year.
But the central thrust of the memo is that the city should take one part of Wheeler's proposal from last month—increasing funding to contractors with the Office of Violence Prevention who counsel victims of shootings and try to prevent acts of vengeance—and amp up the spending even further.
"These immediate allocations must be different from their current contracts and provide as much flexibility to our partners as possible," the proposal said. "Each grant may vary in ranges base on the number served."
In addition to the $3.5 million in targeted investments to community organizations, the commissioners also recommended investing $600,000 in smaller or emerging contractors.
The counteroffer from Rubio, Mapps and Ryan—the three newest members of the City Council whose political stances are least defined—sends a clear message to the mayor that they will not support restoring a police unit that was cut last summer amid racial justice protests.
The Gun Violence Reduction Team was long criticized for overpolicing Black Portlanders, and the City Council eliminated its budget last June.
But the city is now grappling with an extraordinary wave of shootings: At last 18 gun homicides and 245 shootings in 2021 alone, a rate that would easily break decades of records.
That places Wheeler and his colleagues in a difficult spot: They want to stem the bloodshed, which is predominantly killing Black people, without returning to the heavy policing of Black people.
Wheeler debuted his plan last month, which featured a new Portland Police Bureau patrol unit that closely resembled the one he voted to eliminate last year.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty immediately opposed Wheeler's idea. On Thursday, she hailed the counteroffer.
"This proposal is the kind of collaborative problem solving I expected from our historically diverse council where the majority are grounded in community," Hardesty said in a statement to WW. "This City Council understands the urgency in acting to mitigate gun violence, and we are taking action. I am in full support of this proposal and hope council will bring this to a vote as soon as possible."
The commissioners also proposed directing community safety director Michael Myers, who started the job April 1, to lead the gun violence response and development of a community safety plan; for the violence prevention and intervention contractors to establish standards and protocols related to gun violence with the Portland Police Bureau; and for the Police Bureau to shuffle resources to create six additional assault investigative detectives and one sergeant.
The commissioners also proposed long-term goals, including expanding data reporting on gun violence and reevaluating gun violence preventions strategies.
In response to the memo, the mayor's office told WW it agrees with several of the commissioners' proposals, but that Wheeler believes more policing is necessary to curb gun violence.
"The really severe criminal activity—including homicidal shootings in broad daylight—suggests we also need a law enforcement-based deterrence in addition if we're going to be successful," said spokesman Jim Middaugh. "The mayor feels really strongly at this time that a law enforcement aspect is very important to any effort that's going to be successful in breaking the cycles of violence on Portland's streets."
Middaugh added that the entire City Council is on the same page about the urgent need to address gun violence, and that the mayor and commissioners are working toward reaching a middle ground.
"Legislation," he said, "takes debate and discussion and compromise."