Local Public Safety Coordinating Council hosts meeting on policies, practices, data and investments to reduce gun violence

September 19, 2022

Local Public Safety Coordinating Council hosts meeting on policies, practices, data and investments to reduce gun violence

Watch the meeting here

Members of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) executive committee met Monday, Sept. 12, to share updates about their ongoing work to reduce gun violence — providing a comprehensive picture of the latest policies, practices, data and investments making a difference in the community.

The briefing by government and public safety partners was the first of two meetings meant to bring members — and, ultimately, the public — up to speed on the many interventions, prevention strategies and collaboration underway to address gun violence in the region. A second meeting in October will highlight work underway by community-based organizations.  

This month’s meeting included presentations from Multnomah County Health Department Director Ebony Clarke, Multnomah County Department of Community Justice Director Erika Preuitt, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, and Deputy Portland Police Chief Mike Frome.

New team meets mental health needs of people affected by violence

Clarke launched the meeting with a presentation on Multnomah County’s new Gun Violence Impacted Families Behavioral Health Team

Local Public Safety Coordinating Council hosts meeting on policies, practices, data and investments to reduce gun violence

The team, composed of mental health clinicians, is an easily accessible, trauma-informed and home-based service. The culturally specific team works with African immigrant, African American, and Latinx communities, and “looks at how we address root causes that are really rooted in trauma and racism,” said Clarke.

“We wanted to take a public health approach to responding” to gun violence, she said. “And through that lens, what we found was missing was an intentional mental health component to really support individuals affected by gun and group violence.”

Mental health services are combined with support from credible messengers such as peers who have successfully disentangled themselves from gun and group violence.

The team’s primary goal is to make safe and timely mental health services more accessible to families who have been affected by violence. Other goals include:

  • Getting fewer people to even engage in group and gun violence in the first place
  • Connecting youth to mental health services
  • Improving family dynamics to create healthier and more meaningful connections
  • Increasing the community’s use of healthy coping mechanisms
  • Raising  awareness on how cyclical trauma affects the community
  • Increasing pro-social community engagement
  • Improving academic achievement

“We know across the board that if people have positive, healthy relationships in their life, they’re less likely to engage in acts of violence and activity,” said Yolanda Gonzalez, senior manager of Multnomah County’s Direct Clinical Services. “Increasing pro-social activities, or people seeing folks in their community doing positive things — that also has a positive impact on outcomes.’’ 

“And overall we know that when folks are in a healing space, a more grounded space, a less triggered space, they can achieve goals like academic success or job stability or housing stability,” Gonzalez continued. 

“The overall impact of someone’s mental and well-being has ripple effects in the community and their personal life.”  

The team includes three mental health consultants, and works in partnership with POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School, IRCO Africa House and Latino Network

Once people enroll, they gain access to comprehensive mental health services. However, Gonzales, who previously served in a role similar to that of the team’s clinicians, emphasized that establishing enough trust with clients so they agree to engage in the offered services in the first place is often challenging.

“I remember rescheduling one time with a client nine times,” she said. “I left my card in between the doors nine times, and I called them every time, and I always had good intentions and said, ‘I missed you today’ or ‘We didn’t get to meet up today.’ And that’s not traditional mental health services, but it does take a lot to break down those barriers of distrust.”

Clarke said two themes continue to come up in discussions among those impacted by gun violence: respect and judgment. 

“Most organizations have not effectively been able to engage or treat this population, so even outside of a credible messenger, we’re looking for clinicians who are of and from the community and have that understanding,” said Clarke. 

The program does outreach at community events, at schools and through its overlapping partnerships with parole and probation, human services and other partner agencies. 

“When the referral comes from a credible messenger, the client is really ready,” said Gonzalez. “They’ve had the conversations prior to referral and they’re ready to engage in their own treatment services.” 

So far, 15 people have received services, with the youngest person served at 12 years old and the oldest 19. More than half of the referrals have come from credible messengers. 

“We know that one program or one system cannot bring forward the full solution, “said Clarke. “It’s going to take a multi-faceted approach.”  

Community Safety through Positive Change

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

“We’re focusing on how we help those on our caseloads build skills,’’ said Preuitt, the department’s director. “We’re not only looking at individuals engaging in violence, but also the huge impact on women and families.”

Preuitt said the department is launching a pilot program meant to interrupt cycles of gun violence this year, providing more incentives for young adults to participate in violence prevention and culturally responsive programming. 

By providing stipends, the department hopes to encourage those at the highest risk of gun violence to participate in programs and learn new skills.

The incentives acknowledge that participants’ time is important. Sometimes to engage in programming, some people might have to miss out on shifts at work and give up opportunities to support themselves and their families, Preuitt said. The stipends can help ease that choice. 

Staff are currently planning the details around the stipends, Preuitt said. 

Through the gun violence interruption pilot, the department is hoping to expand its outreach to the community and work to create a new generation of credible messengers.

Preuitt said the department  is also working with criminal justice partners to learn more about, and implement, Operation Ceasefire — calling it a “partnership-based, intelligence-led, and data-driven violence reduction strategy that seeks to combine the best of community energies, social services, and strategic law enforcement to reduce gun violence associated with gangs/groups.”

Community health specialists within Multnomah County’s Women and Family Services Unit will also continue to serve as a vital link in the parole and probation model, Preuitt said. While parole and probation officers provide supervision and work to create positive changes in their clients’ lives, community health specialists are needed to provide the extra support to lift clients out of struggles.

“They are carrying caseloads of up to 15 people,” said Preuitt. “The work they do with our families is intensive: They come alongside, they help to build skills; they build resources and they’re helping the whole family move forward.”

Jay Scroggin, director of the department’s Adult Services Division, said the department continues to focus on two areas: treatment services and the actual work of parole and probation.

Specifically related to treatment services, the department expanded its  Habilitation Empowerment Accountability Therapy (H.E.A.T.) curriculum, a cognitive-based program designed to reflect unique experiences of participants with a focus on gang-involved African Americans.

The department has held two H.E.A.T. graduations since the COVID-19 pandemic started, including two separate groups/gang sets that graduated, too, said Scroggin. The department has also grown its use of the Habilitation Empowerment Recovery, or H.E.R., curriculum that started three years ago. The program recently graduated a second group of women.

“The majority of the participants who participate in H.E.A.T. do not go on to commit crimes or get involved in violent behavior. And even saving one life has a ripple on the intergenerational paths of gang involvement,” said Scroggin. 

Scroggin also said the department remains part of the Portland-area Crime Gun initiative and the Focused Intervention Team (FIT). And it actively participates in federal anti-violence efforts such as Operation Safer Multnomah.  

Tracey Freeman, the interim director of the department’s Juvenile Services Division, told the committee that referrals to Juvenile Services for firearm allegations have steadily increased from 52 referrals (4.4% of all juvenile cases) in all of 2020 to 54 referrals (8.9% of all juvenile cases) in all of 2021, and now up to 57 referrals (just over 13% of juvenile cases) just through the first nine months of 2022.

“It becomes more important to continue to provide and expand our services for prevention and intervention programs,” said Freeman. 

Juvenile Services has incorporated the H.E.A.T. curriculum for adolescents and trained 19 participants from the community.

“And we are expanding mentoring services and Oregon Youth Authority flex funds for mentoring for  justice involved youth, that’s in addition to the Community Healing Initiative program.” 

The Families United for Safety & Empowerment program is also part of the continuum of services for youth and families whose lives may intersect with the justice system.

The program teaches skills that can defuse tension between parents and their children.

Juvenile Services has worked with the Latino Network, POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School, and the District Attorney’s Office to increase referrals to the family services program. Since it started in April 2021, there have been 35 referrals — with nearly half, 17, this year alone.

“Families learn and practice with other families how to communicate respectfully and resolve conflict without aggression and violence,” said Freeman. 

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Gun Dispossession Unit and Civil Process Unit prepare the service and execution of court orders.

According to information recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm deaths in the United States reached an all-time high of 48,832, eclipsing numbers from 2019 and 2020.

Firearms are “now the 12th-leading cause of injury eclipsing traffic fatalities,” Sheriff Reese said. 

“What’s happening here in Multnomah County, the City of Portland, Gresham, Troutdale, is not unique.”

Nationally, people of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence; 41% of homicide victims in 2021 were Black males ages 15 and 34. Reese said. That data reflects what’s happening  in Multnomah County.

Firearm-related deaths also aren’t limited to homicides, Reese cautioned. More than half of firearm-related fatalities are suicides.

In the jurisdictions the Sheriff’s Office serves — including unincorporated Multnomah County and the cities of Fairview, Maywood Park, Troutdale and Wood Village — gun violence is up, even though the overall number remains small, Reese said.

So far this year, there have been 23 firearm-related incidents, with total shootings doubling from last year. 

However, the perpetrators of gun violence pay no mind to jurisdictional boundaries, Reese said.

Reese referred to a  shooting Sept. 2 outside the Fred Meyer in Wood Village. 

“When we did the analysis that all of us are doing, the gun that was used at the Wood Village shooting had been used in Portland,” said Reese. 

“We have to work harder and closer than ever before to solve the crimes we’re faced with.”

The Sheriff’s Office works with the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, the City of Portland’s Office of Violence Prevention, and large, multi-agency operations including Operation Safer Multnomah.

The Sheriff’s Office is also doing Enhanced Public Safety Missions that use data on violence to focus on “hotspots” throughout the County, putting resources into those areas. 

One thing that’s unique to the Sheriff’s Office, Reese said, is a gun dispossession unit that works to ensure people  prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition, whether from a court-ordered protection or restraining orders, remain in compliance.

The County has invested in expanding that team’s reach. So far this year, the gun dispossession unit has removed 212 firearms, up from 145 recovered throughout all of 2021. The unit also receives declarations confirming someone has surrendered their firearms or given them to a third party.

“Thanks to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, we have built up a team that is doing this work countywide now,” he said. 

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, from 2008 to 2017, Oregon reported 190 homicides related to intimate partner violence. 

Domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed when a perpetrator has access to guns, Reese said. 

“This is why gun dispossession in domestic violence cases, protective orders and elder abuse, it’s so important to the work that we do.”  

Yet gun violence is up in Multnomah County and across the country, Reese said, underscoring the need for even wider use of the innovations the Sheriff’s Office is leading.

“We have some opportunities to do something different,” he said. “These evidenced-based interventions, like gun dispossession, or focused interventions, whether at hotspots or people at risk, really do matter.”

Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office responding on scene after gun crimes

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said investments made by the Board of Commissioners last year — worth $1.27 million — have been “absolutely critical” in gun violence work and speeding  up prosecutions. 

That added capacity came at a crucial time. With violence rising, so are caseloads — an issue exacerbated by a shortage of defense attorneys. 

Senior Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez said he’s now regularly called to homicide scenes, including one just hours before the presentation Monday. He shared some “staggering” numbers related to shooting incidents: 788 so far in 2022 in Multnomah County.

“And the year’s not done.”

That compares to 721 in all of 2021 — and just 233 in 2019. The overall number of cases that the District Attorney’s Office has issued has increased by 76% from 2019 to 2022. 

Between January 2021 and now, attorneys including Vazquez have been called to homicide scenes 160 times, more than 80 a year. Before 2019, the average number of calls a year was 30. 

“The numbers speak for themselves as far as issues we’re facing in the community,” Vasquez said. “We are working every day, including nights and weekends, to respond to and deal with the homicides we are seeing.”

Agency partnerships are key to the work, Vasquez added, including those with the Portland Police Bureau’s Focused Intervention Team and Community Oversight Group, the bureau’s Enhanced Community Safety Team, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office, and Operation Safer Multnomah.

But partnership with the community has also been vitally important, That’s why, Vasquez said, two attorneys have been added to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office Access Attorney Program, which performs direct outreach to the community by co-locating attorneys within community groups, and helps people connect with the court system. 

A high concentration of gun incidents happen in downtown Portland, Vasquez said, so the program has added a MAAP attorney and a strategic prosecution attorney there. The program also has an attorney based in east Multnomah County, focusing on the same concerns. 

District Attorney Schmidt emphasized other proactive work, including a new partnership with Oregon Health and Science University, which will form a commission to study gun violence.

“What we’re recognizing is that this is a multi-faceted problem and we need to do everything from supporting behavioral health and pro-social activities, research and what we do as law enforcement partners,” Schmidt said. 

“We’re also reaching out to community groups and seeing how we can support bringing back activities such as midnight basketball or boxing programs.”

Portland Police Bureau 

After any incident of gun violence, the Portland Police Bureau compiles a detailed report about what happened, said Portland Police Deputy Mike Frome. 

Those Shots Fired Incident Reports help document information such as how many shots were fired and the number of shell casings that were recovered; the locations and/or any associated locations of the incident; the names of any victims and suspects; and an accounting of the evidence that was collected.

Gun crime data drawn from those reports and other sources is updated on a monthly basis. Frome said all of the information in the Shots Fired reports has to be cross-checked for accuracy. 

“A lot of times, people may ask, ‘Why don’t you have real-time gun data?’ That is because we are back-logged in the records bureau, and it takes a while to get to where we have data we’re comfortable putting out,” Frome explained.

The bureau also relies on information from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network — “basically fingerprints for firearms,” said Frome. 

Most shell casings that come out of semi-automatic firearms and some rifles leave distinct tool marks on the casings. These casings are evaluated and entered into the network’s database. Police also add to the database by test-firing any weapons they recover — adding information about their markings “to compare weapons we recover, versus weapons that we know have been used in crimes,” Frome said.

“These generate leads and allow us to track firearms across the City, County and even the United States because they will pop up in different jurisdictions.” 

The police bureau’s Focused Intervention Team (FIT) is tasked with proactively interrupting gun violence cycles through data-driven policing. A Community Oversight Group made up of community members appointed by the Portland City Council and the Mayor’s Office oversees the unit and provides ongoing feedback on its intervention and deterrence strategies.

“They really help act as an outside eye on what we’re doing and tell us if we’re slipping into bad practice,” said Frome. 

The bureau also launched an Enhanced Community Safety Team, made up of officers and detectives, to investigate nonfatal gun crimes. Fatal gun crimes continue to be investigated by the Homicide Detail Team, which is made up of detectives.  

“Last year, we had to expand that team from two squads of six to essentially three squads, so we have 18 detectives who are working in Homicide at this point,” Frome said.  

The Portland Police Bureau partners the City’s Office of Violence Prevention, Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice and Sheriff’s Office, and the Oregon State Forensic Lab. 

“We do a lot of DNA on firearms to see if we can track it down to the identified subjects. And we continue to partner with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, (the Bureau of) Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Frome said.

The Portland Police Bureau’s open data website, updated monthly, shows overall statistics citywide and across neighborhoods.

“And soon, micro-location data will allow us to get into maps a lot smaller than we are used to putting out — within a one-third square-mile location to track data,” said Frome.

Frome also shared  total gun violence numbers for 2021: 89 homicides, 68 gun violence homicides and 1,319 shooting incidents. 

He said officers and staff continue to represent the largest investment in addressing  gun violence:

  • 12 officers, two sergeants and one lieutenant with the Focused Intervention Team; 
  • Nine officers, three sergeants and seven detectives with the Enhanced Community Safety Team; 
  • 18 detectives and two sergeants with the Homicide Team.   

“I believe right now we have more people assigned to working on gun violence through patrol and investigative resources,’’ said Frome. “I think the only other non precinct assignment in the police bureau that has more people is the training division.” 

After the final presentation, Portland City Commissioner and LPSCC co-chair Jo Ann Hardesty remarked, “I look forward to absorbing (the information) and being able to continue to dialogue about where investments are making a difference.” 

“Listening to the breadth and depth of work we were doing at the County and in partnership with public safety partners, we know it’s not just one program or agency that will solve gun violence,” Chair Deborah Kafoury followed. “And even the work we’re doing here is just one piece of it.”