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The Gang's All Here

Mayor Declares Downtown Gang Violence as Really Not Okay

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Last Thursday morning, Mayor Tom Potter stood side by side with Police Chief Derrick Foxworth to announce that the police force planned on getting tough on gang violence. But the real message seemed to be that downtown businesses would no longer tolerate the recent spate of shootings around SW Third Avenue.

At the hurriedly arranged press conference, the mayor and police chief explained they would be rolling out a full force of bike, horse-back, and assault police for the weekend—an announcement that was heralded by downtown business owners. Potter capped off the press conference by mentioning that he and his wife would brave the downtown war zone to attend last weekend's Bite of Oregon at the waterfront (where additional police had been stationed for the weekend).

Since mid-May, there have been five shootings in the Old Town area; all occurred just after clubs closed for the night and party goers poured into the streets. In July, the police gave a somewhat belated response to the downtown shootings by increasing their presence in the area, including rolling out a mobile police unit and placing more patrols on the streets.

Most recently, on August 8, just after midnight, about 40 bullets were fired. One bullet struck and killed a man from Seattle who police believe had gang ties. The 29-year-old man had been in attendance at the Expo Center's Lowrider Show earlier in the day and apparently had just left the Vue when he was shot.

In response, the police declared they would once again enforce a clamp-down. Standing in front of the Justice Center last Thursday, Mayor Potter explained he would no longer tolerate "acts of violence" that have "marred our city."

During the same period of time during which Old Town experienced its perceived uptick in gang-related activity, residents in North and Northeast Portland have seen an equal number of shootings. But no press conferences have been called by the mayor or police chief to express concern about this surge of violence. One community leader in north Portland called the Mercury, posing the question: "Do they not understand that children and innocent people have been shot on their porches and in their neighborhoods for years?"

What was especially significant about last week's press conference and the return of a downtown police presence is that it marked a very public and active stand by the mayor. Before his most recent announcement, the clamp-down in Old Town had largely been carried out by the police with only tacit support from the mayor's office.

Also, in previous statements, city officials had stopped short of singling out so-called problem clubs. But at last week's press conference, police and city officials were wagging their fingers, making more direct connections to specific venues. Chief Foxworth asked several clubs to impose voluntary curfews and stagger their closing hours so crowds would not flood the streets at the same time.

But while officials may have stepped up police presence around downtown clubs, at the same time they were scrambling to save one of their favorite enforcement tools, the "Time, Place, Manner" Ordinance. Under that ordinance, city officials could close down or curtail operation hours for any club or bar that receives multiple complaints from neighbors. A complaint can be anything from loud noise to a patron urinating on a nearby lawn. Over the past year, officials have received more than 200 complaints about clubs and bars; however, more than 85 percent of those complaints stemmed from incidents occurring off the bar's premises.

In the closing days of the state legislative session, the senate pushed through a bill snuffing out that year-old ordinance. Mayor Potter lobbied Governor Ted Kulongoski to veto the bill, but so far, the mayor's request has fallen on deaf ears.

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