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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s directive banning law enforcement from using tear gas to stop nightly riots prompted a lengthy rebuke from the Portland Police Bureau.
The Democrat mayor, who also serves as police commissioner, issued the ban on the use of CS gas for crowd control in the Oregon city that has been besieged by nightly rioting for months. Wheeler’s directive left police without one of the effective tools used to combat the violence, as protesters have hurled water bottles, rocks, fireworks and other items at officers who have then turned to using tear gas to disperse crowds.
“Effective immediately and until further notice, I’m directing the Portland Police Bureau to end the use of CS gas for crowd control…During the last 100 days Portland, Multnomah County, and State Police have all riled CS gas where there’s a threat to life safety. We need something different and we need it now,” Wheeler announced this week.
“During the last hundred days Portland, Multnomah County and state police have all relied on CS gas where there is a threat to life safety,” Wheeler said in a video Thursday. “We need something different. We need it now.”
The ban was slammed as “reckless and short sighted” by Oregon State Police who also pointed out that they would be more reluctant to send troopers to assist city officers as a result.
“The OSP will be forced to assess our involvement in assisting the city of Portland,” Oregon State Police Capt. Timothy Fox told The Oregonian in a statement. “We will not force our troopers into this untenable situation and limit their ability to defend themselves and others.”
On Thursday, the Portland Police Bureau pushed back on the directive in a statement explaining how they and partner agencies “have been subjected to repeated violence by a group of motivated and well-organized individuals” since the end of May when the protests began.
“These individuals have stated they intend to kill or injure officers and destroy occupied buildings and dwellings. Threats to commit acts of violence have been scrawled on police facilities and other property. Crowds have chanted slogans about burning down buildings on their way to attempt to do that,” the statement continued.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) September 10, 2020
The PPB went on to clarify that the specific CS gas “has been used sparingly in the last 104 nights” and that they wanted to “clear up a misconception that it is being used as crowd control.”
“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 PPB said.
“When people gather lawfully, peacefully, there is no need for intervention by police, much less the use of CS gas,” the statement continued, noting that the ban will create a need to use “much higher levels of physical force” instead.
“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. We do not want to use gas. We do not want to use any force,” the PPB said, adding that “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.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell reportedly told police staff that he would “continue to do everything to support you.”
“I will continue to advocate for you,” he said in a written message, according to The Oregonian. “Decisions about police response will be made with your safety at the forefront of our minds, so that you can serve the community the way they deserve.”
The ban is “going to blow up in (Wheeler’s) face,” Officer Daryl Turner, who serves as president of the Portland Police Association, warned.
“What agency is going to want to work with us and assist us now in crowd management?” he said. “What is that if not tying our hand?”
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