Police to boost NE Salem patrols, identify services for youth at risk of violence

Salem-area law enforcement agencies this summer will ramp up police patrols in the northeast part of the city and start pinpointing services where they can refer youth at risk of becoming involved in violence.

The plans were announced in a joint statement on Friday from the Salem and Keizer Police Departments; the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Juvenile Department; and the FBI.

The agencies are banding together as part of the city’s Community Violence Reduction Initiative, which will blend their law enforcement work with community organizations to focus on preventing shootings and other deadly violence.

“The ongoing work will be visible during the summer when the weather is warm, days are longer, and schools are not in session,” officials said in the joint statement. “Deterrence, education, and trust-building are the emphasis with enforcement solely used as a tool for those who choose to engage in violence.”

As part of that effort, they intend to start working with high-risk people on parole or probation to reduce their risk of reoffending, as well as boosting “education and trust-building opportunities through community engagement efforts,” according to the statement.

Salem police, who published the statement on behalf of the collective, could not immediately provide details about the plans on Friday.

But the agency said the community can expect “visible patrols” through areas at high risk of violence.

Map of hot spots of gun violence in Salem (Salem Gun Violence Problem Analysis)

They also said officials will identify local government and nonprofit summer programs programming to refer at-risk youth.

A city report issued last fall showed that local shootings doubled in the past five years and were largely concentrated in northeast Salem. 

Last year, Salem endured 20 shootings of people, four of them fatal.

The report also documented a growing number of shootings involving juveniles as both the shooters and the victims.

The city of Salem paid a pair of East Coast researchers $15,000 to conduct the study, which excluded areas outside city limits. Their findings prompted officials to spearhead the violence initiative.

The researchers recommended in the report that Salem police intervene in the lives of gang members, work with vulnerable teenagers before they become involved in violence and focus police patrols on areas enduring the bulk of the city’s shootings.

The Salem agency assigned newly promoted Deputy Chief Debra Aguilar to lead the agency’s work. 

The city is also hiring for a temporary “violence coordinator” in the city manager’s office to oversee the new program. The position would cost $54,000, paid from police salary savings from vacant positions.  

Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack said at a March public forum on gun violence that the person would help coordinate “community capacity,” including convening future meetings on reducing violence.

Salem city councilors also recently approved $18,000 of vacancy savings for work related to the initiative.

Now, the same researchers hired by the city are investigating the state of gun violence across the county and putting together a report that will include unincorporated east Salem. The county is paying $32,500 for the work.

Nick Hunter, Marion County Sheriff, speaks at the Salem City Council work session on the Gun Violence Problem Analysis Report held at the Salem Public Library on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

The city has held two public forums this year intended to plan ways to reduce gun violence, one in English and one in Spanish. Additional meetings are expected in July and August and will be facilitated by Ben McBride, an activist focused on criminal justice reform and gun violence prevention. The dates when scheduled will be published online.

McBride, who is the CEO of the Oakland-based organization Empower Initiative, last month met with stakeholders in the Salem area “to ensure the ideas collected from the community and their perspectives are captured as we work to develop a strategy for our city,” according to Salem police spokeswoman Angela Hedrick.

The community feedback will be part of a final evaluation report McBride will provide the city in October, Hedrick said.

Meantime, Salem police are eying several federal and state grants that would help pay for violence reduction, building community trust, and workforce recruitment and development. City councilors will vote Monday on whether they can seek such funding.

Salem police plan to apply for three separate grants, allotted over two years, from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The grants range from $131,000 to $174,000.

With council approval, the agency would also seek a U.S. Bureau of Justice grant of $1.9 million paid out over three years to beef up the violence reduction initiative. 

They would also apply for $184,000 from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon to put toward reducing violent crime. If awarded, about half the grant funding would go toward the Salem-Keizer School District. District officials didn’t have details Friday of what the grant would entail.

“Reducing community violence requires resources and a proactive approach,” said Womack, in the Friday statement. “We are doing just that by bringing our collective resources to bear this summer to advance our efforts to deter violence and increase safety and accountability.”

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said in the statement that her office is committed to working with local law enforcement to curb violence. 

“As police resources increase, so too will our prosecution efforts to ensure offenders are held accountable under the law,” she wrote. “We must work together to stem this tide.”

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.