One hundred Oregon State Police (OSP) officers are currently en route to Portland to replace the speciality federal officers who've been aggressively guarding the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. Yet, while the city's top officials deem this transition a "victory," they still appear unclear about how it's going to work.
At consecutive press conferences held Thursday morning, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell both confirmed that OSP will take the lead in guarding the federal courthouse from protesters. But the two diverged when talking about the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) role in assisting state troopers.
“I will defer to the Portland Police Bureau and state police,” Wheeler said, when asked whether PPB would be working with OSP near the courthouse. “My understanding, the last time I was updated two days ago, was that it would exclusively be OSP. If that’s changed, I’m not aware of it.”
When asked a similar question, Lovell said that “OSP and PPB will work jointly”—and indicated that OSP will serve as a link between Portland police and federal officers who will remain in Portland after the speciality team leaves.
“OSP will have contact with the federal officers who are here,” Lovell said. “They will coordinate efforts at the federal courthouse and OSP and PPB will work outside in a joint manner to respond to crowd control issues. We’ll be in close contact with OSP—they’ll have the lead at the federal courthouse, and they’ll be the ones coordinating the handoff with the federal officials."
This plan seems to work around a new policy approved by the Portland City Council last week which explicitly bars PPB from coordinating with the feds.
During the press call, Lovell said this new rule “makes it more difficult” for Portland officers stationed at the downtown protests.
“We are trying to manage some fluid, rapidly changing, violent situations on a very rapid basis," he continued. "And right next to us, we have a team of people who are trying to do the same thing. We can’t communicate with each other to know what’s about to happen. … It creates a potentially dangerous situation."
Federal officers have unleashed CS gas (commonly known as tear gas) on large crowds of mostly nonviolent protesters on a nightly basis since arriving in Portland earlier this month. Wheeler said that city and state leaders recently worked out a “joint commitment” that OSP would only use tear gas in instances when there is a clear threat of serious injury or death. Lovell told reporters that "[OSP and PPB] did have some discussion around it."
It’s unclear if similar agreements were reached regarding other uses of force, such as impact munitions.
When asked about PPB’s own use of tear gas against protesters over the last two months, Wheeler said that “there were times, early on in these demonstrations, where I believe I saw the Portland Police Bureau make mistakes when it came to crowd dispersal.” As a result, Wheeler said, he directed PPB to limit its use of tear gas, and Portland officers have used it “exactly twice in the month of July.” (Wheeler declined to ban the use of tear gas outright.)
“I apologize to those nonviolent demonstrators who were subjected to the use of CS gas,” he added.
Both Wheeler and Lovell expressed their hope that OSP's presence will help ease tensions between protesters and law enforcement.
"We're going to do everything in our power to deescalate and put these nightly events on a more safe stance," Lovell said. "I’m hopeful that the community members will see this as a victory.