Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a new gun violence reduction initiative last week that some say is big on ambition but short on specifics. The new summer program, to be led by a former government contractor, has a $2.4 million budget. The Safer Summer PDX team will work to address an anticipated uptick in shootings over the summer.
The other team members, also new hires, have backgrounds in communications and youth outreach. The announcement provided no specifics on what the team would do. There have been 670 shootings in Portland so far in 2022 and 41 homicides, according to the Portland Police Bureau. At this time last year, there had been 582 shootings and 49 homicides.
City leaders have been struggling to address escalating gun violence, which mirrors similar increases in gun violence across the country. But the latest initiative, which will be overseen by the new Community Safety Division, is so far little more than a team of three people with the vague but important goal of reducing summer gun violence.
Before getting hired to lead Safer Summer PDX, Khatib spent more than 12 years working as a government contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He is a former senior manager of a program criticized heavily for questionable spending.
Some experts argue that gun violence can be dramatically reduced by identifying and targeting social services at those people most likely to commit violence. Cities that implement a ceasefire program see reductions in the near term but then gun violence rates rebound in the long term. Possible explanations are far-ranging and include a wave of gun purchases in 2020 or the slow-burn impacts of the economic downturn a decade ago.
In September 2021, Multnomah County officials announced a $2.8 million initiative aimed at tackling the root causes of gun violence. The money was earmarked to create a seven-person behavioral health gun violence response team and hire two investigators and four prosecutors in the district attorney’s office. The funds are also meant to establish a call-in program directed at people perceived to be the most likely to participate in gun violence.