PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - In a press conference Thursday, Multnomah County leaders announced how they're working together to combat the dramatic increase in gun violence in the metro area.

A number of community partners spoke, including Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt.

In the midst of a gun violence epidemic and a massive backlog in the courts due to the pandemic, Schmidt shared how he thinks the county can solve these issues.

"In this moment of urgency we must not go backwards to the tough-on-crime era policies that seeded where we are today, hollowing out families and creating cycles of poverty and oppression," Schmidt said.

Instead, he says county partners are collaborating and help is on the way to everyone impacted by gun violence.

Schmidt says this is an all hands on deck moment where public safety, health and wrap around services are working together to combat gun violence.

He says the county and the district attorney's office are in talks about hiring six new staff within his office, four prosecutors and two investigators.

"This investment means more hours spent interviewing witnesses, analyzing evidence and facts, supporting victims and prosecuting cases," Schmidt said.

While there's a dramatic increase in shootings locally, law enforcement agencies are responding to and investigating these crimes with staffing shortages.

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese says in the Corrections Division there are about 45 vacancies and 11 deputy sheriff vacancies.

But that doesn't stop the department's important work in prioritizing gun violence investigations.

Reese says the department is focused on reducing the number of guns in the hands of people who pose the greatest risk as well as collaborating with other agencies by increasing the visibility of Gresham police officers and deputies in hot spot areas.

Multnomah County leaders take collaborative approach to address gun violence epidemic

Image: KPTV

"We're committed to investigating every single, every single act of gun violence in our community," Reese said. "We're going to work with and have been working with our partners at the FBI, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office and U.S. Attorney's Office on the Safe Streets Initiative to investigate and hold accountable the people responsible for this gun violence and illegally providing firearms to people in our community."

Reese also proposed expanding the department's approach in East Multnomah County as a regional solution to violence spilling across city, county and state lines.

At that joint press conference, Multnomah County Health Director Ebony Clarke also announced the health department is in the process of recruiting for a gun violence behavioral health response team.

At that joint press conference, Multnomah County Health Director Ebony Clarke also announced the health department is in the process of recruiting for a gun violence behavioral health response team.

This is one of several actions the county is taking to address gun violence.

Clarke says that team will be comprised of seven mental health consultants who identify and come from the Latinx, African immigrant communities as well as from the African-American and Black communities.

She says this team will have the responsibility of responding in the moment and will be out in the field at shooting scenes, hospitals, in local neighborhoods and schools.

She says there will also be peer support specialists to work alongside the team.

The peer support specialists she says will have lived experience, relationships in the community and have made a shift in their lives.

Clarke spoke to looking at the whole picture in order to combat gun violence.

"Often times when we step back and we think about the root causes, it boils down to survival," Clarke said. "We see though lines of food insecurity, and houselessness and lack of opportunities specific to jobs."

The county says funding for this team was appropriated July 1 and it should have some of this team hired in a little more than a month.

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