Portland, OR – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has ordered the city’s police force to stop using CS gas against the rioting mobs that have been attacking them for 104 consecutive nights.
Wheeler announced in a video on Thursday that he still expects the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to restore order and arrest criminals, but that they will need to come up with a different way to stop rioters from killing them or Portland citizens rather than deploying CS gas.
“We must stand together as a community against violence and for progress,” the mayor declared. “We all want to focus on the fundamental issue at hand – justice for black people and all people of color.”
“That’s why as police commissioner, effective immediately and until further notice, I’m directing the Portland Police Bureau to end the use of CS gas for crowd control,” Wheeler continued. “During the last hundred days, Portland, Multnomah County, and state police have all relied on CS gas where there’s a threat to life safety. We need something different, and we need it now!”
The mayor failed to identify what that “different” solution might be, and did not unveil any plans to provide the PPB with tools to replace those he has stripped away from them.
He then praised the Oregon Legislature for research they have been conducting into the use of CS gas “and what safer alternatives may exist that prevent the need for greater force.”
He further said he commits the City of Portland to “full participation in these reforms.”
Wheeler did not indicate how soon he and the legislature expect to have alternative tools and solutions available for law enforcement, who have now been under attack for well over three months.
He said he still expects police to arrest people who break the law, and that he still expects the district attorney to prosecute those offenders.
But newly-elected Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt recently announced that his office wouldn’t be prosecuting the vast majority of arrests that had been made during the riots that have cost local businesses in the tens of millions of dollars.
“Many of the people who have been arrested at these protests for low level offenses come to us with little to no prior criminal history, and we have little to no reason to believe they will re-offend,” Schmidt said in a statement on Aug. 11, according to KATU.
Wheeler said in his video on Thursday that he’s taking action, but that everyone else has to do something, too.
“I’m acting,” he boasted. “It’s time for others to join me.”
Although the mayor failed to describe the magnitude of the violence law enforcement officers have been battling for over 100 consecutive nights, the PPB did just that in a press release later in the day.
The department noted that they have repeatedly been subjected to violence by “a group of motivated and well-organized individuals” who have openly declared “they intend to kill or injure officers and destroy occupied buildings and dwellings.”
“Rioters lit County offices on fire in a building which houses hundreds of inmates and public employees, as well as the Portland Police Central Precinct,” PPB said. “Rioters barricaded doors shut at North Precinct and East Precinct and attempted to light the building on fire with employees and civilians inside.”
“Officers have been attacked with rocks, glass bottles, frozen water bottles, lasers capable of causing permanent eye damage, ball bearings and sharp objects launched from slingshots, paint balloons (to render their face shields useless) as well as fire bombs, large fireworks, and other items,” the department’s press release read.
Citizens have also become victims at the hands of the riotous mobs.
“Numerous community members have been assaulted, one person has been murdered, firearms have been discharged, and neighborhoods such as Kenton have been endangered by fires set in the streets and at the Portland Police Association office,” PPB said. “Neighbors have been threatened and intimidated by people engaged in the nightly violence. Businesses have suffered losses from arson, vandalism and mass theft.”
PPB disputed Wheeler’s claim that CS gas has been used by PPB as a “crowd control” tool.
“It is not. It is being used to disperse crowds only when there is a life safety event. Most recently, it was used to disperse a crowd from which a Molotov cocktail was thrown at officers and ended up injuring a community member who was on fire,” the department said.
CS gas has been deployed in residential areas at times, which police said is not something they want to have to do.
“However, the community should be asking the rioters why they are committing violence that threatens the very lives of others nearby,” the department pointed out. “When people gather lawfully, peacefully, there is no need for intervention by police, much less the use of CS gas.”
In addition to complaints about officers’ interactions with rioters, PPB has simultaneously been blasted for holding back.
“Crowds have come to our precincts, vandalized cars, gates, security cameras, etc. and police do not confront the crowd. When this occurs, the crowd escalates and does something such as light a building on fire so police will have to engage them,” the department explained.
PPB warned that Wheeler’s order banning the “lawful use of CS” could end up forcing officers to resort to “much higher levels of physical force” in order to address violence.
“CS, while effective, is a significantly lower level of force than impact weapons, which would very likely be necessary to disperse riotous groups with its prohibition,” the agency said. “We do not want to use gas. We do not want to use any force.”
Limiting the tools available to the city’s police force places officers and citizens at risk, police said.
“To make an arrest in the middle of a crowd intent on destruction and injuring people, it takes considerable resources–large numbers of officers that we do not have,” PPB explained. “Not only do we not have enough PPB officers to respond in this manner, our area partners have stated they will not come to our aid, given the climate in Portland.”
The department said they are being ordered to bring hundreds of rioters under control without having the manpower, resources, and tools they need to be able to do so.
“Lately, it seems more tools have been taken away then added,” the press release read.
Officers also don’t have the luxury of waiting for the legislature or Wheeler’s experts to figure out how they can do their jobs better, because the rioters aren’t waiting for those solutions either.
“The Police Bureau is in favor of research, but research takes time. Removing tools without well vetted alternatives, with policies and training in place prior to their use, places police and community members at risk,” PPB said. “No one has presented a solution of how officers can stop a rioting group who are threatening the lives of those present, especially given that in most of these cases, officers are clearly outnumbered, sometimes by hundreds.”
The department warned that it won’t be able to help create the environment where changes can be made if they don’t have the tools to protect their members and the citizens they serve.
The Oregon State Police (OSP) called Wheeler’s CS gas ban “reckless and shortsighted,” and said they may pull back the troopers who have been helping PPB as a result of the order, The Oregonian reported.
“The OSP will be forced to assess our involvement in assisting the city of Portland,” OSP Captain Timothy Fox told the paper. “We will not for force our troopers into this untenable situation and limit their ability to defend themselves and others.”
Portland Police Association (PPA) President Daryl Turner said he anticipates the mayor’s CS gas ban is “going to blow up in [Wheeler’s] face,” The Oregonian reported.
“What agency is going to want to work with us and assist us now in crowd management?” Turner argued. “What is that, if not tying our hand?”