Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency this afternoon in an effort to reduce the wave of gun violence that has swept the city in recent years.
There were 673 shootings in the first half of 2022, double the number from the same period three years earlier.
“We will not stop until gun violence stops,” said Wheeler, noting that Portland’s rate of gun violence has risen far faster than peer cities, such as Minneapolis and San Francisco.
The Thursday press conference reflected how badly gunfire has overwhelmed Portland law enforcement. It was also the latest case of the mayor overriding the typical balance of power at City Hall to make some progress on an issue where the government appears paralyzed.
It is his fifth emergency declaration in six months, following efforts to address other issues like homelessness and graffiti. By declaring a state of emergency, Wheeler gives himself the power to coordinate staff across city agencies he does not directly control.
His two-year plan is called “Safer Summer PDX.” Its goal is to decrease gun violence by 10% in two years, a number that Wheeler called “a floor.”
The plan will focus on 200 people who are most at risk of involvement in gun violence. They will be offered “life coaches” and connected to existing social services.
Wheeler also pledged to use crime data to target hot spots in the city where gunfire regularly occurs. He is enlisting the Bureau of Transportation and Portland Parks & Recreation to increase surveillance and improve lighting in public spaces. And the mayor plans to target homeless campsites “where incidents of gun violence are occurring,” according to an organizational chart of the initiative distributed by the mayor’s office.
Wheeler promised to fight for ongoing funding to support the new initiatives, including more funding for police.
In a press release, the mayor noted that Portland has fewer sworn police officers than at any point in the past 30 years. The homicide clearance rate since 2019 is 37.4% when measured “by incident” and 51.8% when measured “by victim,” according to the release.
Wheeler wants to increase the homicide clearance rate to 60% within two years.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, who also spoke during this afternoon’s press conference, said he is adding homicide investigators and plans to add 10 new officers to the force each month. “Our investigators are working as hard as they can,” he said.
In concluding his remarks, Wheeler directly addressed people involved in violence.
“I am here to tell you we are sincere in offering you a path out,” he said.