Dear friends and neighbors,
Every member of our community deserves the right to feel safe and secure where they live. This isn’t a controversial statement. But I know that the sense of stability, freedom and confidence that come from being able to go about your day — visiting your local park, going to the grocery store, gathering in your living room — without worrying about gunfire has been elusive for many community members.
Among the challenges that we’ve faced over the last year and a half, it’s undeniable that the surge in shootings and gun violence is among the most urgent and deeply concerning. This pandemic has magnified inequities and disrupted the social supports, public spaces, opportunities and routines that keep individuals from engaging in gun violence. As a result, we’ve seen a rise in gun-related injuries and homicides, leaving far too many victims, bystanders and neighborhoods traumatized.
This is an all-hands-on-deck crisis, and it has to change.
A system that creates true and equitable public safety must be able to respond to the root causes of harm in order to stop crime now and prevent crime in the future. We can’t simply double down on the old “war on crime” approach to public safety — which leans far too much on profiling by law enforcement officers, overzealous prosecution and punishment — because it has proven to be ineffective, as well as the cause of profound long-term harm, especially to communities of color.
Multnomah County plays a multi-faceted role in building and upholding public safety. Law enforcement interventions (through the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office) and prosecutions (through the County District Attorney’s Office) are critical pieces of that response, but so are the behavioral health interventions, prevention and rehabilitation services, and community partnerships that the County offers and supports.
These distinct County functions can’t, and don’t, act alone. Rather, they have all been working together — urgently, holistically and in close coordination. The success and effectiveness of one part of our public safety strategy depends on the others, and the extent to which we share our values, share our information and align our efforts. Creating community safety requires an immense amount of expertise, collaboration and community trust, and Multnomah County is meeting that challenge.
Last Thursday afternoon, I called a press conference to share what Multnomah County has been doing to strengthen our work to prevent violence and new investments that we believe can — and will — increase safety in the short term, while building and maintaining long-term security and stability.
Included in the slate of new efforts is a gun violence behavioral health response team that will deploy mental health clinicians, as well as people who are credible messengers in the community due to their own direct experience with community violence. The team will be deployed immediately after a shooting. Additionally, we plan to hire four prosecutors and two investigators in the District Attorney’s office to assist with its caseload and provide more time to focus on homicides.
We also announced that in the aftermath of gun violence incidents, our Department of Community Justice, which oversees parole and probation services, will begin to engage in call-ins with individuals identified as being at high risk of committing gun violence. This intervention is a critical opportunity for criminal justice system partners, service providers and people with lived experience to underscore messages about consequences, accountability and the kinds of support that are available to them. Call-ins work to discourage their involvement in any retaliatory actions and can help interrupt cycles of violence.
Furthermore, the sheriff shared that his agency has confiscated more than twice as many firearms so far this year than it did in all of 2020, meaningfully reducing one of the primary drivers of gun violence.
Multnomah County fully understands the urgency of this crisis. We are doing all we can to prioritize expediency, but we’re also balancing speed with data-driven approaches and the intentional work it takes to build trust with the communities most at risk of harm. And even then, the efficacy of our County efforts are often tied to the capabilities and urgency of other local jurisdictions and agencies.
We recognize how critical it is for the safety of our community that we work together across departments, and just as importantly, work in close partnership with the communities and people most affected by the violence. We’re responding accordingly by investing in the solutions, by listening to our communities and by intently coordinating our efforts. This is a crisis, and the County is working fervently to help turn the tide.
Other notable news and resources
Eviction prevention and rent relief: This past week, hundreds of thousands of Multnomah County residents received a text message about eviction prevention resources and rent assistance. The text messages are part of our public awareness effort to keep renters safe and housed.
Like the text message said, financial and legal help is available. If you receive an eviction notice, call 2-1-1 immediately to get connected to the County’s eviction defense program that can provide urgent help. If you owe current or past rent, visit multco.us/rentrelief to learn about applying for relief and the protections that you become eligible for once you complete an application.
Please get vaccinated! Multnomah County continues to host regularly scheduled COVID-19 vaccine clinics Tuesday through Saturday. While the County’s vaccine clinics focus on reaching people who are Black, Indigenous, Latino, Pacific Islander, Asian, or other people of color, immigrants, refugees, and people without health insurance or a regular healthcare provider, everyone is welcome and no one will be turned away.
Vaccines continue to be safe, free and effective. While vaccines are neither a guarantee against sickness or a cure for COVID-19, the data shows that they are overwhelmingly successful at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death. Vaccinations, as well as using masks or face coverings in public indoor spaces, remain our best tools for protecting ourselves and each other.
Please stay safe and stay healthy,
Multnomah County Chair