PORTLAND, Ore. — The sheriff of Oregon’s most populous county sounded the alarm Friday over a spike in arrests for violent crimes and said the number of people in jail for murder and attempted murder is the highest it has been in nearly 30 years.
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said in an open letter that the county that’s home to Portland is seeing a dramatic rise in arrests and bookings for so-called Measure 11 crimes, or violent felonies such as murder, attempted murder, rape, sodomy and assault that carry state-mandated prison sentences upon conviction.
There were 371 defendants charged with those offenses in jail on an average day in 2021 — already a huge spike — and currently half the jail’s population is charged with a Measure 11 offense, Reese said.
The county is also struggling with record-high levels of traffic fatalities and overdose deaths, he said.
“We need to act with a sense of urgency. Summer is approaching, a time when we typically experience increased violence in our community,” Reese said. “Violent crime, traffic fatalities and overdose deaths are already at historic high rates. Without action, we can expect worse to come.”
In addition, homicides have been on the rise in Portland for the past few years. From 2019 to 2020, Portland had a sharper rise in killings — an 83% increase — than nearly all major cities. Nationally, homicides had increased by nearly 30% in the same time, based on FBI data.
Amid a surge in gun violence, Portland recorded 90 homicides last year — shattering the city’s previous high of 66 set in 1987.
City police and officials say the increase — which disproportionally affected Portland’s Black community — was fueled by gang-related arguments, drug deals gone awry and disputes among homeless people. The situation was exacerbated by the pandemic, economic hardships and mental health crises.
Gun violence hasn’t slowed, with officials warning that Portland is on track to outpace last year’s grim homicide record.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live reports that so far this year there have been 30 homicides, including one deadly officer-involved shooting.
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