Board updated on County departments’ efforts to combat gun violence

March 14, 2023

Multnomah County Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O'Donnell (left), Law Enforcement Division Chief Deputy James Eriksen, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 28 was briefed on the County’s efforts to fight an ongoing rise in gun violence, including the impacts of investments made in the fiscal year 2023 budget. 

The briefing was given in response to a budget note made during the last budget cycle by Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, then the District 3 Commissioner, requesting an in-depth summary of the Board’s investments in programs intended to reduce gun violence, as well as the impacts of various methods of intervention. It included presentations from members of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Department of Community Justice and the Health Department

This presentation comes at a time when Portland and Multnomah County are enduring a drastic increase in violence, “twice passing the highest homicide numbers on records,” said Chair Vega Pederson. 

In response, the Board invested in intervention and prevention programs, efforts to help interrupt and break cycles of violence, and services that support victims and others affected by crime.

“I know how critical our upstream investments are in addressing root causes and reducing the cycle of violence in our community,” said Chair Vega Pederson. 

“I have lived with the reality of gun violence in my community and this helps me focus on innovative, community-led efforts to make a bigger impact on the crisis as we go forward.” 

Sheriff’s Office’s Dispossession and Investigative efforts 

Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell said her agency’s fiscal year 2023 budget included $722,121 meant to reduce the impacts of crimes and violence that involve a firearm in the community. 

This includes continued funding from the General Fund for a full-time Sergeant focused on dispossession efforts and funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for three limited-duration deputy sheriff positions  — one assigned to the Detectives Unit and two at the Civil Unit. 

“I believe these added positions are critical community safety investments, which allow the efficient deployment of resources focused directly on the current needs of the  community, specific to interrupting and reducing gun violence,” she said. 

Law Enforcement Division Chief Deputy James Eriksen said the Civil Unit has more bandwidth to connect with system partners to follow up with those served with protection orders to dispose of their firearms and ammunition. This allows for more direct involvement in the serving, verifying, tracking and reporting of guns when someone is served with a protection order, said Eriksen.

In 2022, the Sheriff’s Office had a total of 473 firearm declarations, compared to 244 in 2021. Gun dispossessions, recorded at 357 in 2022, more than doubled from 145 in 2021.

Since then, firearm declarations and gun dispossessions have nearly doubled. In 2022, the Sheriff’s Office had a total of 473 firearm declarations, compared to 244 in 2021. Gun dispossessions, recorded at 357 in 2022, more than doubled from 145 in 2021. 

The importance of the gun dispossessions and following up on court orders cannot be overstated, said Eriksen. A survey by the Educational Fund found that nearly half of all women killed in the United States are murdered by a former or current intimate partner, said Eriksen. The study also noted that a woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun. 

Sheriff’s Office “members who build relationships with the petitioners assist in their feelings of safety by knowing that police are holding the respondents accountable for the orders by the courts,” Eriksen said. “This includes multiple contacts by phone and home visits with subjects and their family, to verify ownership or access to firearms and the removal of those weapons as ordered by the courts.” 

The Sheriff’s Office is also dedicated to investigative efforts in response to gun violence incidents, as it continues to be a growing danger in the community, according to Erickson.

In January 2022, the Sheriff’s Office, through the Business Income Tax, also funded an additional detective assigned to all gun violence calls that occurred within the County’s jurisdiction. 

Gun violence knows no jurisdictional boundaries, Eriksen said. For example, a shell casing recently recovered in East Multnomah County was fired from a firearm used in a similar crime just hours earlier in Portland. But this additional detective works closely with stakeholders, such as the FBI, the City of Portland's Office of Violence Prevention, and the hospital-based violence prevention program Healing Hurt People, which responds to survivors of shootings and stabbings. 

The work also includes collaboration with the Gresham Police Department, Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, the Oregon Youth Authority, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.  

“No one agency can solve this community problem. We have to do this difficult and dangerous work together,” said Eriksen.

Between 2020 and 2022, the Sheriff’s Office saw an increase in confirmed shootings. There were eight investigated shooting incidents in 2020, 30 in 2021 and 42 in 2022. Eriksen said having a detective dedicated to the investigative work in gun violence incidents allows for the tracing and sharing of information that’s gathered at crime scenes. 

As a result, the Sheriff’s Office made 215 entries into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network in 2022 and generated 62 leads to other crimes in the community. 

“Using data-driven processes, we’ve created Enhanced Public Safety Initiatives to use specialized positions alongside other public safety resources and focused on identified areas where gun violence overlapped with other dangerous behaviors such as stolen vehicles, traffic crashes and impaired driving," said Morrisey O’Donnell.

She also noted that community engagement has been a key component in how the Sheriff’s Office has developed strategies to improve public safety responses. 

The Sheriff’s Office has coordinated listening sessions to learn about community challenges and how to better serve everyone. And members continue to connect with contracted cities and unincorporated neighborhoods to review initiatives that focus on systems that directly impact their communities. 

But one of the most important connection points gained through these focused resources, said Morrissey O’Donnell, “is creating a bridge of understanding where community members are comfortable enough to approach law enforcement with questions, concerns or information, and law enforcement has built trust within our neighbors where we are invited to connect through positive trust building engagement efforts.”  

“Thank you again for your interest and support of these critical staffing resources aimed at reducing violence and crimes in our County.”

District Attorney’s Office’s impact on caseloads 

The briefing included presentations from members of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Department of Community Justice and the Health Department. 

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt also reported on gun violence data across the County; the increase in the workforce; and the results of County investments meant to reduce caseloads for prosecutors. 

Schmidt said his data differs from that of the Sheriff’s Office, due to the fact that the District Attorney’s Office encompasses the entire County, while the Sheriff’s Office patrols certain cities and unincorporated areas within Multnomah County. Nevertheless, shooting incidents across the County increased 217% from 2019 to 2022, said Schmidt, from 413 shooting incidents recorded in 2019 to 1,307 in 2022.

Recorded homicides also climbed, according to the Portland Police Bureau, increasing by 185% to a total of 97 in 2022 — nearly triple the 10-year average of 34.

The statistics depict “historic highs” in gun violence, said Schmidt, pointing to data and charts showing the severity and volume of cases, locations, homicide callouts, cases referred by law enforcement and more. 

“We rely on our law enforcement partners to make cases and communicate and coordinate with our office and get those cases to us,” said Schmidt. 

The DA’s Office has prosecuted an “all time high” of cases of felons in possession of firearms; followed by all cases involving a gun charge such as assaults, manslaughter, attempted murder, murder or unlawful use of a weapon.  

The Centennial, Parkrose, Lents, St. Johns, Wilkes and Pleasant Valley neighborhoods are seeing the highest total numbers or highest density (not per capita) of gun violence, attempted murder and murder with firearm cases in our community, said Schmidt. 

By statute, the District Attorney’s Office is the lead investigator on homicide and murder cases. “A big part of the work that we handle are our homicide call outs,” said Schmidt, noting 106 total callouts last year. 

Thanks to investments made by the Board of Commissioners, — roughly $1.27 million, including $450,000 from the General Fund for full-time prosecutors and $821,802 from the ARP for two limited duration prosecutors and two investigators — homicide prosecutions and other work have sped up. 

“Had we not had that increase in resources and prosecutors to help us handle these cases, which are the most sensitive cases that we handle and require a lot of attention and time," said Schmidt, “our caseloads would have been much higher.”  

“I meet with a lot of families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, and my deputies and victim advocates do that on a regular basis,” Schmidt said. “That work, those face-to-face meetings, are so important to let them know what’s going on with the system and with the process.”  

Department of Community Justice Adult and Juvenile gun violence prevention 

Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice works with people on supervision to help them develop the tools to work toward positive change — making the entire community safer in the process.

Multnomah County Juvenile Services Division Director Dr. Kyla Armstrong-Romero presented alongside Department of Community Justice Deputy Director Denise Peña and Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.

“The work that we do is very vital as it relates to community safety,” said Department of Community Justice Deputy Director Denise Peña, who launched the presentation.

For example, the department’s African American Program in the Adult Services Division, created in 1996, is the department’s longest-running, culturally specific violence intervention program, said Peña.

High-risk Black and African American men and women returning from prison and into their communities are disproportionately over-represented in the criminal justice program, Peña said. But the African American Program — with two probation and parole officers and two corrections counselors — helps deliver important services such as the H.E.A.T. (Habilitation, Empowerment, Accountability, Therapy) curriculum. 

H.E.A.T. is a “culturally specific, strength-based, trauma-informed” group counseling intervention that’s designed for people 18 to 29 years old.

H.E.A.T. serves 15 men at the Columbia River Correctional Institution and nine women at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. The African American Program is also available in community programming and serves 17 men and 10 women, said Peña. The program works closely with a behavioral health specialist to help serve clients. 

“Just last year, our team presented alongside its behavioral health specialist at a national conference in New Orleans and received accolades for excellent work in Multnomah County,” Peña said.  

With funding from the American Rescue Plan, the department’s Victim and Survivor Services was able to fund a records technician whose responsibility is to provide victims of crimes with notifications about important court dates related to their case, among other services. In 2021 alone, over 3,200 crime victims and survivors were able to receive timely notifications. 

The position remained funded in FY 2023 through the County’s General Fund.

As part of the community violence interruption programs, the Department of Community Justice also continues to fund a Community Health Model within its Women and Family Services, which provides direct services to women and families under supervision. And since July 2022, over 200 direct services contacts have been made to families as well as to clients at the Juvenile Services Division and their families.

In partnership with Latino Network, the department  also launched a culturally specific caseload for Latino men between the ages of 18-30 who are under supervision. Like the H.E.A.T. curriculum, the program provides culturally responsive programming and support for participants, and continues to be funded through the County’s General Fund. 

“Currently, we have 25 on this caseload, Peña said, “and out of those 25, 10 are actively engaging with Latino Network and their resources.”

Moving forward, Peña said the department will hold H.E.A.T. training sessions for employees and community partners to provide a refresher for those already facilitating the curriculum, and also to expand the program to the community — including an expansion to serve youth in detention. H.E.A.T. participants will also receive incentives through stipends.

“The ability to address anti-social thinking is an effective way to reduce recidivism, especially as it relates to gun violence,” she said, something programs such as H.E.A.T. work to develop for participants. 

The goal of the incentive is to increase the number of participants in the H.E.A.T. program, allowing for more engagement and also serving as an investment in the community’s future.

“This aligns with our budget equity priorities to identify, interrupt and address harm.”

Finally, the department continues to support work to establish the Gun Violence Prevention Incubator Pilot, also known as the Public Safety Village.

That pilot program — a consortium of community-based culturally specific organizations led by people who have been impacted by or involved in community violence — provides gun violence intervention programming. As part of ongoing work, the Department of Community Justice and its partners are building capacity among community-based organizations with the necessary skills and experience to provide the services to reduce the number of gun violence incidents in the county, Peña said.

Juvenile Services Division 

In her first time before the Board, Multnomah County Juvenile Services Division Director Dr. Kyla Armstrong-Romero presented on the need to address racial disparities in gun violence and the need for continued wraparound services.  

"The trends and increase in gun violence are alarming,” she said. “Nearly one in three people shot in 2023 nationwide were under the age of 18. There’s a great racial and ethnic disproportionally as well that those impacted by gun violence are experiencing.” 

To address the root causes of gang and gun violence among youth, the Juvenile Services Division, alongside community partners, provides the Community Healing Initiative program, which is designed to decrease youth violence by providing culturally specific wraparound services to youth and families. In 2022, 110 youth received services through that program. 

Armstrong-Romero called for an increase in these services, not just in the Community Healing Initiative itself but the related Community Healing Initiative Early Intervention Program, which works to reach adolescents and families before they ever become involved in the legal system.

“One of the things I’m focusing on in my role is meeting all of the partners involved — and from the juvenile side, how we intersect, who’s at the table and what services are provided,” Armstrong-Romero said. “So many juveniles have their parents involved in the system or there are crossover youth where we have youth who are also involved in the child welfare system. So partnering with the Oregon Department of Human Services, the School District and community partners is going to be vital.”

The Juvenile Services Division is also incorporating and expanding the H.E.A.T. curriculum and using it inside detention. 

This focuses on the habilitative as opposed to rehabilitative portion, said  Armstrong-Romero. “Youth are taught and are learning new skills that they may not have learned yet as opposed to re-learning skills.” 

“I am excited to partner along with my amazing colleagues and figure out some solutions,” said Armstrong-Romero.  

Multnomah County Health Department: Public Health Division 

From right: Public Health Prevention and Health Promotion Interim Director Charlene McGee; Community and Adolescent Health Program Manager Sarah Fast, Yolanda Gonzalez and Heather Mirasol with the Behavioral Health Division

Public Health Prevention and Health Promotion Interim Director Charlene McGee described “gun violence, like all forms of violence,” as an “urgent and complex societal problem that requires multi-faceted solutions.”

“Public health is focused on the health, safety and well-being of the entire population including youth,” she said. “Our public health approach is multi-disciplinary and includes collective action from diverse sectors as instrumental collaborators that layer prevention strategies across settings that are essential to youths' lives.”     

McGee said investments in violence prevention must be long-term and require collaboration across the Health Department, including the Public Health and Behavioral Health divisions.

Sarah Fast, the Public Health Division’s Community and Adolescent Health Program Manager, said the division is focusing on supporting upstream prevention activities — programs and events that help reduce the risk factors that contribute to multiple forms of violence while increasing protective factors for young people.

Over 2,000 young people have been able to engage in violence prevention activities and events including youth-driven projects in schools that improve spaces for learning and socializing. And 80 school personnel have participated annually in the County’s violence prevention training, said Fast. 

In fiscal year 2023, the County General Fund will support 38 different projects with 31 organizations, giving funding to small organizations and school group projects mostly designed and led by young people. 

“We work to increase individual knowledge and social, emotional development for young people through implementation of intimate partner violence prevention curriculum and through comprehensive sexual health education work,” Fast said. “These work in tandem with other violence prevention efforts.”

Behavioral Health Division

In response to rising gun violence, the Behavioral Health Division designed and launched the Gun Violence Impacted Families Behavioral Health Response Team

Behavioral Health Deputy Director Heather Mirasol said the program provides culturally specific mental health treatment and peer support services to people affected by gun violence. 

The program, composed of mental health clinicians and credible messengers, provides an easily accessible, trauma-informed and home-based service. The culturally specific team works with African immigrant, African American, and Latinx communities, and works to address root causes for violence that are really rooted in trauma and racism.

Services include but are not limited to: 

  • comprehensive mental health assessment and treatment planning, 
  • one-on-one counseling, 
  • psychotherapy groups and family therapy, all using evidence-based strategies applicable to the communities the team serves.  

Yolanda Gonzalez, Behavioral Health Direct Clinical Services Senior Manager, said offering the gun violence team’s services to the community can provide alternatives to getting involved in gun and group violence, and improve participants’ coping skills, academic achievement, and social and emotional well-being. 

So far, 33% of program referrals come directly from credible messengers — who work directly with the program. Gonzalez said an additional 27% come from partners within the Department of Community Justice; followed by 21 percent from six partner school districts throughout Multnomah County..

“The team has been able to respond to shootings and provide mental health consultation and debriefing services for school communities and staff impacted by the shootings that have happened near several high schools and across the County this year,” said Gonzalez.  

“Trauma recovery work is a delicate practice and there is growing access in our community," said Mirasol.  

“Our team remains committed to reinforcing connections with all entities engaged in this imperative work, expanding access and effective consultation as well as continued engagement by our credible messengers and continued provisions of culturally specific, trauma-informed, evidence-based services with tangible outcomes in these realms. ” 

Local Public Safety Coordinating Council 

To convene partners and facilitate that collaboration, the public safety council hired Community Violence Project Manager Wendy Lin-Kelly pictured on the left.

“There’s clearly a lot going on,” said Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, who wrapped up the presentation and acknowledged the importance of communication and collaboration across all County divisions and agencies working to combat gun violence. 

Stamp said it’s about “understanding who’s doing what, who’s being served, what are your outcomes” and noted communication and collaboration are “a growing effort.” 

To convene partners and facilitate that collaboration, the public safety council hired Community Violence Project Manager Wendy Lin-Kelly. 

Lin-Kelly said her next steps are connecting with the City of Portland to understand its gun violence prevention programs and see how the City can collaborate and reach out to the community-based organizations who provide services to the County’s clients, understanding that the community will “hold us accountable in this work.”

Board remarks 

Commissioners Susheela Jayapal and Lori Stegmann both expressed a strong interest in learning more about the County’s overall strategy to combat gun violence.

Commissioners Susheela Jayapal and Lori Stegmann both expressed a strong interest in learning more about the County’s overall strategy to combat gun violence. 

“We need to have programs and structures that’ll outlive the individuals that currently sit in those powers of authority,” said Commissioner Stegmann. 

“I agree with Commissioner Stegmann,” said Commissioner Jayapal, “we need to be moving to a place where there is some overarching logic to the groups of programs that we have.”

Both commissioners thanked the departments. Commissioner Jayapal said she would follow up with more detailed questions and Commissioner Stegmann said she wanted to keep moving this work along and “create a strategy that we can actually implement.”

Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who continues to work shifts as an emergency room physician, also shared similar concerns. 

“Just a few weeks ago, I treated a gunshot wound when a person came in who was caught in the cross-fire and had a wound,” she said. 

“As more and more people die, we need a coordinated overarching strategy to prevent the deaths,” she said. 

Commissioner Diane Rosenbaum thanked the departments and asked, “How are we tracking the long term success of these projects?”

For the Department of Community Justice, Peña said, success will depend on the individual, but tracking program outcomes has already begun.

“The issue of community gun violence is something that we all know is such a big one in our community and it is such a shared priority for all of us,” said Chair Vega Pederson. 

“I do think there is a very obvious call for what is next,” she said, “the coordinated strategy that we have to address this issue and how we’re going to be telling the story of what the impact of that work is. That is the action we can take away from what we heard today.”