Portland police Sgt. Tina Jones suddenly moves her right hand to the pistol holstered at her hip as she talks to the driver of the red Hyundai Santa Fe.
The swerving SUV that she stopped has just rolled back a foot and she doesn’t know what will happen next. Maybe the driver might try to ram her unmarked patrol car or run her down. Maybe the driver will take off and put other people at risk.
Jones yells at the man to put his foot on the brake. Once he does, she quickly reaches through the open window with her left hand to snatch the keys out of his hand. She slams them on the top of the SUV.
She tells the driver several times to put his hands on the steering wheel. He appears to reach for something in his waistband, but Jones can’t see what it is. He follows her commands just enough that she doesn’t feel she needs to take out her gun.
Six other officers soon arrive to back her up, and Jones and another sergeant pull the driver from the Hyundai while another officer lifts the man’s shirt and finds a .380-caliber handgun that he had tucked in his pants. A search of the SUV turns up a shotgun and a .22-caliber Colt pistol in separate gun cases in the trunk.
It’s the first day of August and Jones’ second week on the Gang Enforcement Team.
The guns in the SUV add to a tally of 122 firearms recovered this year by the gang team and a special police task force formed to get guns off Portland streets. The Police Bureau recovered a total of 139 guns last year and 145 guns the year before.
Although the main job of gang team officers is to identify gang members and investigate gang violence, they also work to seize guns that are being used in an escalation of shootings across the city.
But it can be nerve-wrecking duty. The team members at times encounter people they know are felons carrying guns who aren’t keen on being arrested, Jones said. And then there are the unpredictable instances, like the driver of the Hyundai.
Both scenarios can get hairy in a matter of seconds, Jones said. The 14-year Portland police veteran always keeps in the back of her mind that anyone could have a gun.
“I’m really glad he did not pull his gun because I would have had to shoot him,” Jones later says of the Hyundai stop. “That would not have worked out very well for him. And if his reaction was fast enough, it may not have worked out very well for me.”
Jones has never had to shoot anyone before.
Jones is among a new group added to the gang team this summer to combat a spike in shootings. She joined another sergeant on the afternoon shift, which focuses on patrols, and together they supervise 13 officers. She is one of two women on the team.
The unit has investigated 101 gang-related shootings and stabbings through July — on pace to eclipse the highest number recorded so far of 118 gang crimes in 2012.
Jones previously worked on the transit police, family services, street crimes and patrol units, but said she always wanted to join the Tactical Operations Division, which includes the gang team. The members are high-quality cops and she was impressed with their teamwork when she rode with gang enforcement officers for a shift a year and a half ago.
The outreach opportunities also appealed to Jones.
“A lot of what this team does goes way beyond responding to a shooting call,” she said. “They’re very proactive, they contact a lot of people in the community, check in with them, see what their thoughts are and encourage them to make positive decisions.”
But the volume of call-outs on shootings has been the biggest adjustment, Jones said. Two shootings within two hours of each other marked her second day on the team.
One on Northeast Killingsworth Street left bullet holes in a U.S. Postal Service truck and another car. Someone else fired several times in a Lloyd Center parking lot. No one was hit.
The ages of many of the shooters, in their teens and 20s, is also disturbing, she said. None of them are trained how to use a gun safely, and they get the guns so easily that it’s difficult to track the sources.
“Not only are they putting others at risk, but also themselves,” Jones said. “Some of the shootings have been people who have shot themselves. Other people have been targeted because it’s known they have a gun.
“When you think about the sheer volume of shootings we’ve had and the number of rounds we’ve had in the city, it’s alarming. We’re all just hoping no one gets hit, but the more rounds you have going down range, the higher the likelihood that someone is going to get hit and or killed.”
Earlier in the day, Jones heads to North Portland to help with an arrest of a documented gang member found with a gun. By the time she arrives at North Swenson Street and Iris Way, the 21-year-old suspect is already sitting in a patrol car with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Officers said they found him with a .380-caliber gun in his front pocket. Police will hold the firearm as evidence until the criminal case is concluded. If it was stolen, it would then be returned to the rightful owner, if police can determine who that is. Otherwise, it will be destroyed.
Jones recalls a shooting at the same intersection nine days earlier. In that case, officers found blood and evidence of gunfire when they arrived but no victim. A 19-year-old man later arrived at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with a wound from the shooting. Police have made no arrests in the crime.
Jones often finds herself associating intersections and landmarks around the city with emergency calls and other experiences from on the job. Some of them are positive. Many aren’t.
Driving through the Cully neighborhood may bring back memories of working with children. But walking through a park with family or friends may remind her of a killing.
After she leaves the gun arrest, Jones drives past a Valero gas station near Northeast 60th Avenue and Killingsworth Street and remembers the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old near the gas pumps two years ago.
“The vast majority of the world doesn’t encounter that, and we make sure to try to add that layer of protection so they don’t have to,” Jones said. “But do this job long enough, and your brain doesn’t allow you to look at the city the same as everyone else.”
It’s about 8:25 p.m. when the red Hyundai SUV abruptly lurches in front of Jones as she drives east along Southeast Powell Boulevard near 131stAvenue.
It’s on course to crash head-on into her unmarked Ford Crown Victoria, but careens back into its lane and continues down the street. Jones turns on her emergency lights, blasts her siren, pulls a U-turn and speeds to catch up to it.
The SUV forces one car into the bike lane to avoid a collision and narrowly misses a parked car when it swerves into the opposing lane. A minivan and two other cars pull over to get out of its way when the SUV goes over the centerline again. With Jones close behind, the driver crosses the centerline one more time and finally pulls over near Southeast 128th Place.
That’s when Jones encounters 38-year-old Sabahudin Nuhanovic and eventually pulls him out of the SUV. Along with the three guns discovered in the SUV, officers also find a sheathed knife in the front passenger seat and a pile of clothes in the back.
Nuhanovic tells officers that he hoped police would kill him. One of the officers recognizes Nuhanovic from a call in June when he was threatening to kill himself. Police took several guns from him then, too.
Later Nuhanovic tells Jones at East Precinct that he and his wife were having problems, so he gathered his belongings and left. His home is about a half-mile from where he was arrested. His blood alcohol content is .23 percent, well over the .08 legal limit, court documents show.
He’s booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center on accusations of driving under the influence of intoxicants, unlawful use of a weapon, unlawful possession of a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, reckless driving and reckless endangering.
An hour after the arrest, Jones still feels a mix of relief and anxiousness.
She helped stop Nuhanovic from hurting himself or someone else. It’s possible she and the other officers prevented future shootings, she said.
“Some nights are slow and boring, but most nights we get to make a difference,” Jones said. “I think we did tonight.”