By Don MacGillivray

Gangs issues frequently appear in the news and many of the violent gang-related shootings cause death or serious injury. This is not likely to stop without an “all hands on deck” approach to the problems of younger citizens in Portland’s troubled ethnic neighborhoods.

Gang-related shootings have increased to a record level this year. To date there have been 146 shootings whereas last year there were 109.

North and NE Portland have been historic areas of gang activity for the last thirty-five years. With the displacement of many Inner NE neighbors to East Portland and Gresham, gang issues have dispersed.

Seventy gang-related crimes and twenty-five shootings or assaults occurred in May of this year, the highest on record. The number of shootings began to increase in 2010 after a 15 year decline and has increased each year since then.

The police have recorded a considerable increase in people between the ages of 14 and 24 with access to guns. They’ve found 100 guns while on patrol in the first half of this year and based on 2004 numbers, there are 2,000 gang-involved individuals county-wide of which approximately 400 are hardcore members.

Public schools have estimated that there are about 200 gang-affected youth in Portland Public Schools, but of the 10,000 adult and juvenile offenders being supervised in Multnomah County, only about four percent are gang-affiliated.

Gangs meet the needs of teenagers seeking a sense of trust, relationship and caring. Historically the three factors that have correlated strongly with youth involvement in gang violence here are: their family or friends involvement with gangs, drug possession or sales, and gun possession. These families are generally low income, unemployed, educationally disadvantaged and often on public assistance.

The modern Portland gang era began in the mid ‘80s, when members of the Hoover Street Crips of South Los Angeles moved here to exploit the untapped drug market in the Northwest.

Close behind were the Rollin ‘60s Crips who competed for crack cocaine drug action. When the city’s first gang-related killing occurred in 1988, the Housing Authority of Portland and other local agencies developed a comprehensive gang reduction strategy that was so successful it became a national model.

Portland police have a list of more than 120 documented gangs and a recent Multnomah County and City report on gang-related activities states that a reliable and centralized way to determine the level of gang activity must be undertaken.

It states that gang activity has reduced over the first decade of the 21st century while current statistics indicate that gang shootings have increased in the last few years. The Gang Enforcement Team (GET) is in charge of gang suppression, outreach, and intelligence all over the city.

Under Oregon’s Measure 11, young adults who are 15 years of age or older can be tried as adults if arrested and convicted on any of 24 serious crimes, and given lengthy sentences. This Oregon ballot measure passed in 1994 with a well-funded campaign and little opposition. The public was tired of violent crimes and wanted a solution.

Because this is both expensive and harmful to the future of the teenagers involved, state and federal authorities are considering changes to the laws about length of incarceration.

Most gang-involved individuals who have been interviewed indicate they had been suspended or expelled from school. In Multnomah County, three times the African-American students as White students are expelled. Of those expelled, 60% identified the reason as fighting.

There are many organizations pro-actively addressing gang issues here. Portland Office of Youth Violence Prevention has launched the Street Level Gang Outreach Program, the Gang Impacted Family Team, and Enough Is Enough aimed at getting community members to take a stand against violence.

Operation Safe Summer is a coordinated effort among City of Portland, Multnomah County, the Portland faith community and many others. Portland Police Bureau’s Gang Resistance Education and Training Program is a school-based, classroom taught law enforcement curriculum. This program teaches life skills to help students avoid delinquency and gang involvement.

Connected is an organization that positively interacts with Portland’s youth by mentoring them toward productive life alternatives. Neighbors Against Violence is an alliance comprised entirely of female ex-gang members working to steer young people in positive directions with the hope that this will “save some lives”.

There is general agreement that all youth need good parental role models and family support. They need ongoing contact with those that can attend to their basic needs educationally, physically, socially and emotionally. Young people need to live in safe neighborhoods and succeed in school, with expectations of a successful life.

For more information see the Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council report published in June of 2014.