Youth outreach key to gang violence prevention

GRESHAM, Ore. (KOIN 6) — The chief of police for the City of Gresham said youth outreach is a top priority when it comes to slowing gang violence in East Multnomah County.

Police Chief Craig Junginger, speaking at gang summit Thursday, said he is very concerned about what this summer may bring as schools get set to release in a few weeks.

“If we don’t catch these kids that are becoming gang infected in late elementary school or middle school, then we’ve lost them,” Junginger said.

File image of a gang related shooting in 2013 in Gresham, Ore. (KOIN).
File image of a gang related shooting in 2013 in Gresham, Ore. (KOIN).

Gang activity is no longer isolated to a few small segments Gresham. In 2013, the city reported 7 homicides. The chief said 6 of those homicides were linked to gang violence. Historically, the city has only averaged about 3 homicides a year, city data shows.

“Any time we have a rise in homicides is troubling to me,” Junginger said.

The East Metro Gang Task Force (EMGET) formed in 2005 in response to increased gang violence. In 2013, EMGET officers made 1,595 gang-related contacts, documented 190 new gang members and seized 80 weapons from gang members.

“When school gets out the weather gets nicer and the gang activity increases,” Junginger said.

There are approximately 450 gang members in East Multnomah County who have been identified by EMGET, official said.

“The gangs in Portland are the gang in Gresham,” Junginger said. “And the gangs in Gresham are the gangs in Portland.”

Police cautioned, documented gang members “represent only a fraction of total gang members.”

“We’re doing a very good job of enforcement but we aren’t doing a real good job with intervention and prevention,” Junginger said.

So often, police are “reacting” to violence after it happens. No single entity can be expected to achieve a needle-moving change to gang violence, the city’s new gang outreach specialist said.

The city has come up with what it calls a collaborative and comprehensive approach to reducing gang violence:

  1. Community mobilization: getting local citizens, including former gang members, involved with community groups to coordinate community based programs.
  2. Opportunities provision: Developing specific education, training and employment programs targeting gang-involved youth.
  3. Social intervention: Have youth-serving agencies reach out and act as links between gang-involved youth and their families to help address needs.
  4. Suppression: The close monitoring of gang youth by agencies including the criminal justice system but also community-based agencies.
  5. Organizational change and development: Create policies that result in the most effective use of resources to address the gang problem.

“We work very closely with the Portland Police Bureau because gangs no longer are really about turf,” Junginger said. “It’s about drugs and it’s about human trafficking.”

File photo of a Gresham police car on scene of a Gresham homicide in 2013 (KOIN)
File photo of a Gresham police car on scene of a Gresham homicide in 2013 (KOIN)

The city of Gresham has taken what officials call decisive steps to help with enforcement matters centered at reducing gang violence. The city recently opened up the Rockwood Public Safety Facility. The recent hire of a gang outreach worker has already yielded contact with more than 2,000 high-risk youth. Gresham is also partnering with the Boys & Girls Club to build a new facility in the city.

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis speaks at a gang summit (front) as Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill (background) listens.
Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis speaks at a gang summit (front) as Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill (background) listens.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is also involved with the efforts. DA Rod Underhill has dedicated a gang prosecuted assigned to the Rockwood Public Safety Facility, a prosecutor assigned to the Gresham Police Department, a neighborhood deputy district attorney, a misdemeanor prosecutor, three prosecutors assigned to the East County Major Crimes Team, and a county human sex trafficking prosecutor.

Junginger said it may be only a matter of time before the first wave of gang violence hits the region, but when it does, police will be ready to respond as quickly as possible to stop any retaliation violence, which often follows after a gang shooting or homicide.

“When there is a gang related homicide or serious shooting, we share intelligence (with outside agencies) and coordinate a system…so there won’t be this retaliation,” Junginger said.

Resources:

Gresham Police Department Gang Prevention Plan

 

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