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Doug Brown

Last week, we tried to find out what Portland's Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT)—previously called the Gang Enforcement Team (GET)—had done to improve the numerous problems with its model outlined in a March 2018 audit. But our questions went unanswered by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), who instead pointed to the October 2018 name change and the data tools the GVRT uses to solve gun-related crimes.

Fortunately, the City Auditor's office has come through with the receipts.

According to a new report, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has completed one of the five recommendations the auditor's office made 14 months ago.

This is particularly important because Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has spent the past few weeks pushing for Mayor Ted Wheeler to defund the 34-person GVRT. Her argument is based primarily on the 2018 audit, which found its officers disproportionally pull over Black drivers and fail to track whether or not these stops ever conclude with an arrest of a gang members. Hardesty suggests the officers assigned to the program return to police patrol work, which would allow them to respond to 911 calls and officer requests for backup.

While PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw, Wheeler, and others in the law enforcement community say the GVRT is a crucial piece to Portland policing, no one has shown evidence proving that GVRT officers are no longer taught to target people of color or are even successful at tracking gang activity.

The City Auditor's "follow up" to the 2018 audit, published today, details how PPB has responded to the initial report's five recommendations.

According to the report, PPB still doesn't require GVRT officers document the "investigative reason" for a traffic stop. The PPB has also neglected to set goals to measure the effectiveness of its traffic stops, in hopes of proving that they actually target gang-related criminals. PPB's reason? Because the bureau no longer records if someone is a "criminal gang affiliate," so it's apparently impossible to track.

The audit report notes that PPB has trained GVRT members on how to enter data on traffic stops that don't result in an arrest, but the bureau is still not monitoring the data as recommended. The PPB has also failed to report whether targeted operations on groups of alleged gang members ever result in arrests.

The only recommendation that PPB has "resolved," according to the report, is the suggestion that the bureau "regularly analyze and publish demographic data regarding GET [now GVRT] stops." However, the report notes, the PPB isn't publishing the right data.

The 2018 audit found that 59 percent of traffic stops made by the GVRT were of Black Portlanders. Only 6 percent of Portland's entire population, however, is Black.

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But, instead of comparing this demographic data, PPB has been publishing data that compares the percentage of Black drivers pulled over by GVRT officers to the percentage of Black Portlanders who are victims of violent crimes. Essentially, PPB is saying that since many Black people are victimized by violent crimes, then it makes sense to target Black drivers.

The only problem? It's unconstitutional for police to treat people different based solely on the color of their skin.

Will this new report change Wheeler's budget decision? Probably not. What does matter, however, is that after being sent a blistering audit, the biggest change made to a controversial PPB department appears to be... its name.

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