Portland Police upping ante as gang violence surges - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland Police upping ante as gang violence surges

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Even just minutes into a ride-along, it’s not tough for Portland Police Officer Andy Polas to point out several areas recently hit by gang violence.

“A few months ago we had one right here at this intersection,” Polas said from the passenger seat of the police cruiser in northeast Portland. "There was like 40 shell casings recovered in the street -- it was a a complete shoot out. Some Crips had come through, and there was a group of Bloods walking around and they all had guns and opened fire on each other in the middle of the neighborhood.”

For the bureau’s gang enforcement unit and many neighborhoods, it’s becoming the new normal. This year there have already been 52 gang-related shootings, and the city is on track to break last year’s violence record.

In 2015, gang members committed 183 violent crimes — police said most cases involved guns.

“Portland hasn’t ever been this violent before,” Polas said.

Polas, a 12 year veteran of the bureau, said the unit can mostly pinpoint the spike: for years, two of Portland’s most notorious gangs held an alliance and worked together. But a couple years ago, there was a deadly dispute between the two gangs and all hell broke loose.

“Probably close to over 100 shootings over the last two years back and forth between those two groups,” Polas said.

To fight back, police nearly doubled the size of the gang enforcement unit last fall. Now 15 officers are dedicated to the city’s most crime-ridden streets.

Officers spend a lot of time driving around looking for suspects. A big part of the work is just maintaining a presence in the neighborhoods.

“We are going to the different areas to see if we see anyone we know, to see if we see any guys we know carrying guns,” Polas said.

Even with more officers, it’s tough work. Polas estimates there could be up to thousands of gang members in Portland.

For the most part, the groups are historical in nature. Most are third or fourth generation families that have modeled their gangs off the Crips and Bloods in Los Angeles.

Polas said often different gangs will fight over girls and women that represent income.

“A big thing we see with our gang members a lot -- especially the younger guys — more and more these days is pimping. Guys are making a lot of money on sex trafficking women and young girls.”

With more officers on the streets, Polas said the team is slowly making ground and even earning respect from some of the gang members.

“It’s made it a lot better for us to make more contacts with people,” Polas said. "It’s safer for us, and these guys know they’re more likely to get contacted by a gang enforcer than they were before.”

The unit’s goal is to build cases and collect evidence against the most violent offenders and make arrests to keep them in prison for maximum time. They also hope to reach out to younger kids and help keep them out of gangs before it’s too late.

Polas said the gang enforcement unit has seized about 400 guns in the last four years. He reckons that could have stopped 400 shootings and maybe has even saved lives.

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