Portland mayor to declare emergency, form ceasefire team to stem summer shootings

The city’s new Community Safety Division will help to coordinate community-based outreach with police enforcement efforts


By Maxine Bernstein
oregonlive.com

PORTLAND, Ore. — Mayor Ted Wheeler plans to issue an emergency declaration to summon extra help to curb gun violence as summer gets underway.

He’s also assembled a team of people who will work out of the city’s new Community Safety Division to try to better coordinate community-based outreach with police enforcement efforts for an initiative called Safer Summer PDX.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler plans to issue an emergency declaration to summon extra help to curb gun violence as summer gets underway.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler plans to issue an emergency declaration to summon extra help to curb gun violence as summer gets underway. (Dave Killen)

“Here we are in mid-June, and we know that historically in the City of Portland, as well as in other cities around the country, gun violence escalates during the summer,” Wheeler said in a statement. “We don’t want to be caught off guard here in the City of Portland.”

So far this year, 43 people have died in homicides in Portland, most resulting from shootings, slightly below the 51 at this time last year, when the city had a record of 92 killings.

There have been 657 shootings in Portland so far this year, with 193 injuries and 3,149 casings recovered, according to Police Bureau data.

The new three-member ceasefire team includes Shareef Khatib, who has been hired as a program director to manage a gun violence reduction program under the mayor’s emergency declaration, according to his LinkedIn page.

Khatib, according to the mayor’s office, was born in England and has managed counter-violence projects in war-torn countries of Afghanistan, Iraq, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nigeria and the Sudan.

Khatib will work with two other city employees, Julian Massenburg, a Portland native who most recently has worked to help form the Community Safety Division and previously was on the communication team in the city’s Office of Management and Finance, and Kandel Ashley, a Portland native who has worked in the mayor’s office as a constituent service director since last year after spending five years working with youths and young adults at risk of becoming involved in gang or gun violence for the Native American Youth and Family Center.

“Their goal is to work as our ceasefire team to help develop concrete, immediate strategies here in the city of Portland to start reducing the gun violence that we’re seeing on our street,” Wheeler said.

Under the umbrella of the Community Safety Division, led by former Fire Chief Mike Myers, the ceasefire team will coordinate efforts by the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, which oversees youth and family outreach workers, with the Police Bureau’s response to shootings and investigation of gun crimes.

“I’m glad that the voices of the community are being heard,” said Sam Sachs, who founded a nonprofit called the No Hate Zone that works to promote racial justice. In early March, he stood with other community leaders in Dawson Park to call for such an emergency declaration. “I’m grateful gun violence is becoming a priority and that the mayor is listening to more community members to hopefully achieve different outcomes.”

Kieran L. Ramsey, special agent in charge of Oregon’s FBI, said the number of shootings and “rounds that are flying are still extremely problematic.”

“I am very heartened to see, though, that the alarm bell is now fully ringing,” Ramsey said. “I think finally everybody’s in the same boat rowing in the same direction. Maybe we’re not rowing at the same cadence, but everybody’s in the same boat rowing in the same direction now, and that was not always the case, last summer even.”

He said he welcomes new solutions to an ongoing problem.

The police Focused Intervention Team, a team of 12 officers and two sergeants, seized 32 guns and responded to 255 shootings this year through last Thursday.

Four of the team’s officers were involved in a shooting May 6 in Northeast Portland but have been cleared to return to work after a grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by them. One officer is back and the rest are expected to return in the next two weeks.

They seriously wounded 36-year-old Matthew Ronald Leahey after a traffic stop ended with an exchange of gunfire between Leahey and the four team members.

Police had stopped a silver Lexus on a suspected traffic violation that Friday night in the Roseway neighborhood as it headed west along Northeast Mason Street between 78th and 79th avenues, according to police and witness accounts. Police haven’t said what led to the traffic stop.

At some point during the stop, Leahey is accused of firing at a Focused Intervention Team officer, and the officer and three other officers from the team fired back, according to police and area residents. More than a dozen shots were fired in the residential neighborhood, neighbors reported.

Leahey was indicted June 7 on seven charges, including two counts of attempted aggravated murder with a firearm, accused of attempting to shoot Officers Adi Ramic and Michelle Petty with a .380-caliber handgun, according to court records. He’s also charged with the attempted first-degree assault and second-degree assault of Ramic, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon and being a felon in possession of a gun.

Earlier this year, the mayor used his emergency powers to bolster the city’s response to homeless street camping. Portland’s charter gives the mayor sole power to control all city agencies during a declared state of emergency.

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