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Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese penned an open letter to the residents of Portland and the surrounding area this week, warning that violent crime is reaching record heights and may only get worse as the summer approaches.
“I continue to be deeply concerned about current trends in community violence,” Sheriff Mike Reese wrote Friday.
There were 102 people in jail for murder or attempted murder at the beginning of April, the most since the mid-1990s.
Cities across the country have seen a spike in homicides in recent years, but Portland’s homicide rate has surged at a far higher rate.
The city has already seen 25 homicides in the first three months of the year, setting itself up to break last year’s mark.
At the same time, the number of people in Multnomah County jails for serious felonies like kidnappings, robberies, and sex crimes has also gone up.
“This is not the only serious threat to public safety, however,” Reese wrote. “Record-high levels of traffic fatalities and overdose deaths are jeopardizing personal safety and devastating families and social support networks.”
Other parts of the United States have been dealing with the same problems. More than 31,000 people died in car crashes in the first nine months of 2021, which was most in the first nine months of any year since 2006, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Meanwhile, the CDC’s provisional data shows at least 105,000 drug overdose deaths last year nationwide, a 13% increase over 2020.
The sheriff proposed several actions to alleviate Portland’s problems, including taking firearms from individuals who are prohibited from having them, engaging in outreach for homeless people, and increasing funding for specialty teams that investigate criminal organizations.
“We need to act with a sense of urgency. Summer is approaching, a time when we typically experience increased violence in our community,” Reese wrote. “Without action, we can expect worse to come.”
Portland’s city council voted to cut the police budget by $15 million in June 2020, but added $5.2 million back late last year amid the surge in crime.
A report by an independent law enforcement investigatory agency called the OIR Group found that the Portland Police Bureau is also suffering from declining morale.
“The repeated references to a ‘lack of support’ from City government seemed even more acute than frustrations with protesters — and have seemingly contributed to a self-perpetuating dynamic of distrust and resentment,” the report said.