Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams urged the City Council to continue funding the Portland Police Bureau's Gun Violence Reduction Team on Tuesday.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has said she will propose abolishing the unit, formerly known as the Gang Enforcement Team, in the budget that takes effect on July 1. She said it has historically focused disproportionately on communities of color.
But in a May 14 letter to the council, Williams said, "I want to make sure you are aware this unit of PPB's Tactical Operations Division is part of a multi-agency metro region collaboration to reduce gun violence in Multnomah County. This unit is made up of officers with significant regional expertise and a deep knowledge of the community."
According to the letter, as part of the Justice Department's National Project Safe Neighborhood program, the Portland Area Crime Gun Initiative was formed in August 2017 with partners from the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Portland Police Bureau, the Gresham Police Department, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon State Crime Lab, the FBI and ATF.
"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. 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," the letter said.
The letter was sent on the same day that the council held its first work session on the budget for the next fiscal year proposed by Mayor Ted Wheeler.
Although the majority of the council expressed general support for the proposal, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty complained that 54 Portland Parks & Recreation employees could lose their positions to close a $6.3 million budget shortfall. She repeated her previous proposals to city spending in the Portland Police Bureau, the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to free up enough general fund dollars to save their jobs. None of the other council member specifically endorsed any of them, however.
The council will hold a public hearing on the budget on Wednesday, May 22. Hardesty is likely to offer amendments to cut the police body camera program, the hiring of unarmed police patrol employees, the renovation of the historic Mt. Tabor reservoirs, the James Beard Public Market, and a study for water ferry service on the Willamette and Columbia rivers at that time.
Public testimony will be accepted.
Hardesty did not mention eliminating the Gun Violence Response Team during the work session.
You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.
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