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Portland City Council accepts police reforms report that calls tear gas a ‘chemical weapon’

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The Portland City Council has voted to accept a report on police reforms that designates tear gas as a “chemical weapon” while recommending it not be used against demonstrators in the future.

In addition, the report from the Citizen Review Committee’s Crowd Control and Use of Force Workgroup also calls on officers not to don heavy protective clothing and gear when dealing with protesters, presumably even those who are violent and may themselves be dressed in such clothing.

The panel’s report also recommends that the Portland Police Bureau “make permanent the existing ban on the use of CS gas by PPB, and extend it to other chemical weapons used for crowd management.”

“In response to the murder of George Floyd by police in May 2020, thousands of Portlanders took to the streets daily for months in protest of police brutality and the disproportionate impact on communities of color. During these protests, many concerning confrontations between Portland Police and the community occurred,” the report says in an opening summary.

“Our recommendations for improved policing practices to facilitate the First Amendment rights of all Portlanders cover the categories of equipment use, de-escalation, bias, and training,” the summary continues.

Protests rocked Portland for months last year, at one point surpassing 100 straight days of Portland Police being deployed to quell the violence, which included starting fires, smashing windows of businesses, and besieging a federal courthouse, forcing the Trump administration to reinforce it with federal officers. In many instances, PPB officers had little choice but to deploy CS, a common tear gas, in order to try and disperse crowds. But eventually, Democrat Mayor Ted Wheeler banned the use of all tear gas by police.

Other recommendations by the panel include the creation of “a plan to mitigate the risks to public health and the environment in the event of chemical weapons use,” to “implement a more restrictive standard governing force that poses risks of indiscriminate harm to bystanders and/or individuals gathered in crowds,” to “create clear and detailed guidance that establishes what levels of force are permissible under common circumstances that may arise in the course of crowd management,” and “commit to transparency regarding officer decision-making in situations where force is used in crowd management,” including releasing internal reports regarding such uses of force to the public.

Officers should also “adopt ‘soft clothes’ for protest response” while shunning riot gear because it could “suggest the expectation of violence or combat when attending or responding to events where violence has not occurred.

And police should “cease use of weapons that target groups, rather than individuals, when largely peaceful crowds are present” while also working to “avoid force as an escalating act,” the report recommends.

“I am curious if you looked at the number of police officers who were injured during these protests,” city Commissioner Mingus Mapps told KOIN. “I don’t have that data in front of me for city police, but the feds claim 144 federal officers who were in riot gear were injured. So one of the things I’m trying to figure out is what situations do we have them in protective clothing.”

The report said that the recommendations were “based on thorough analysis of community feedback, discussion with PPB leadership, and review of existing policies, established best practices, and legal standards.” It also called for mandatory “comprehensive cultural diversity and anti-racism training vetted by members of vulnerable communities,” claiming there is police bias in favor of right-wing groups but against protesters of color and the press.

Though the report was accepted in a vote by the city council, no action has yet been launched on its recommendations.

A Republican gubernatorial candidate in Oregon slammed the “insulting” effort to “shift blame” on the police for the violence.

“The City of Portland agreeing that over 100 days of violence and riots on its streets was the fault of the police is an insulting attempt to shift blame onto the only people in a position to keep Portlanders safe,” Stan Pulliam told Fox News. “Law Enforcement Officers are already having to quit their jobs in a city that has no regard for the rule of law anymore.”

“Saying that police are responsible for the violence is jumping to the next level of politically insane,” he added.

Jon Dougherty

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