UNDER THE HARSH house lights and motionless disco ball of Barracuda nightclub, a crowd of Portland police officers and 40 bar owners, managers, and bouncers gathered somberly in a space normally reserved for bumping and grinding.
Gang enforcement team partners Derrick Foxworth Jr. and Derek Carmon gathered the downtown club scene's movers and shakers on Wednesday, April 27, for a workshop on what, exactly, Portland gangs look like these days.
It's against federal law for police to distribute lists of gang members and ask bars to give them different treatment, but cops can recommend that businesses profile customers based on how they're dressed. The officers clicked through a PowerPoint presentation as bar staff took notes on small tables emblazoned with the Monster energy drink logo.
Photographs of black kids with orange baseball caps, bandanas, shoelaces, anything orange really—that's the Hoovers.
Green bandanas and backward devil horns—could be the Unthank Park Hustlers.
Seattle Mariners gear? If they're not baseball fans, they could be a member of the Rollin' 60s, a North Portland Crips gang. Kansas City cap? Could be a Kerby Blocc Crip.
"What's bringing the gangs here? It's the format, unfortunately. Gangs don't go to country bars: It's the hiphop, the rap," Officer Foxworth, son of a former Portland police chief, told the crowd. "If you're going to have that playing, you need to consider how you do your searches."
Gang-related violence has jumped recently: In 2010, the cops' gang violence team responded to 93 violent calls, compared to 68 callouts in 2009. So far in 2011, calls are up 35 percent over the same period last year. The last 12 months have seen three gang-related killings in Portland bars.
In the most high-profile of those homicides, alleged Crips member Kevin Moffett is accused of fatally shooting Club 915 bouncer Ruben Mata on New Year's Eve. The other two occurred at JD's Bar and Grill and the Good Call sports bar, both on the Eastside.
"It's not as bad as South Central or Detroit. But it's still not at an acceptable level for Portland," says Foxworth. "There's been an uptick in shootings recently, mostly between Bloods and Crips. It's just this historic battle, kind of like between Democrats and Republicans."
The newest trend, say gang enforcement officers, is women carrying weapons into bars in their bags, believing bouncers are less likely to frisk them. Police ask bouncers to wand every patron and poke through women's bags.
"They're pretty ladies and they want to come into the club and have a good time," says Officer Carmon. "But they're gangsters."
Downtown bar owners generally agree with police that gangs are a problem. But they also say searching every clubgoer's purse or waistband is a hassle. Barracuda, for example, has 800 to 900 people come through its doors on a weekend night, according to longtime manager Keno Leighty. But it beefed up its security this winter after the Club 915 shooting.
If violence does break out in a bar, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission makes the call whether to repeal a liquor license. Though actually canceling a liquor license can take months or years ["The OLCC Hit List," News, March 17], three Portland bars have closed this past year (Club 915, Ohm, and the 720 Room) after the state threatened their licenses in light of gang-related violence.
For now—steer clear of orange. And maybe Mariners caps.