When Portland police officers are unhappy with a decision made by city leadership, they usually take their concerns to their respective union leaders, who use strongly-worded press releases or new lobbying campaigns to express their members' collective discontent.
On Thursday, however, police didn't bother cloaking their growing grievances behind a union statement. Instead, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) used its city-issued email account and official social media pages to trumpet their displeasure with Mayor Ted Wheeler's decision to ban PPB from using CS gas—a commonly-used type of tear gas.
In a lengthly press release sent through PPB's official media channels, PPB detailed how people have damaged property, thrown items at police, and caused general mayhem during the past three months of protests against police brutality.
"Banning the lawful use of CS will make it very difficult to address this kind of violence without resorting to much higher levels of physical force, with a correspondingly elevated risk of serious injury to members of the public and officers," the statement reads. "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."
In short, because of Wheeler's decision, police will be forced to shoot members of the public at protests with pepper balls, rubber bullets, flashbang grenades, or other "impact munitions."
This isn't the first time PPB has made this connection. In July, PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis explained to press that without CS gas, it's impossible to safely arrest people who are committing crimes in the midst of a large crowd.
"It really is difficult to [arrest individual people] without significant use of force and significant injury to everyone involved," Davis said. "If it's the choice between using CS gas and a fatality....Well, I'd prefer that we weren't put in the position to make that choice."
In June, Wheeler instructed PPB to only use CS gas when there was "a serious and immediate threat to life safety" at a protest. This instruction was echoed in a restraining order filed by a federal judge in a case against PPB's reliance on tear gas. Yet this restriction didn't significantly change the amount of gas PPB pumped into neighborhoods and city parks every night. Several lawsuits and complaints have been filed against PPB in the past months by Portlanders who experienced the effects of CS gas while inside their homes during a demonstration nearby.
PPB mentioned this in their press release.
"We understand that this gas seeped into nearby homes and that is not something we desire," the statment reads, referring to a recent demonstration in Southeast Portland. "However, the community should be asking the rioters why they are committing violence that threatens the very lives of others nearby. When people gather lawfully, peacefully, there is no need for intervention by police, much less the use of CS gas."
It's a remarkable accusation: That people who have been tear gassed while inside their homes should be blaming protesters—not police—for their painful reactions to the chemicals seeping into their furniture and settling on countertops.
PPB leaders have repeatedly expressed their collective exhaustion after three months of protests directed at their bureau, but they haven't specifically opposed the policing decisions made by Wheeler, who serves as the city's police commissioner. On Thursday, Portlanders saw a hint of the growing divide between police and their boss, who's vying for a second term in office this November.
"Police need all kinds of tools and resources to effectively respond to violence perpetrated by groups of people," the statement reads. "Lately, it seems more tools have been taken away than added. There has been mention of research into alternative methods that may prevent the need for greater force. No one has presented a solution of how officers can stop a rioting group who are threatening the lives of those present."
Maybe this solution hasn't come directly from Wheeler, but an Oregon State Legislature task force and city-appointed police accountability groups have discussed alternatives at numerous meetings in the past months. Ideas, coming both from law enforcement experts and members of the public, have spanned from police officers not wearing armored riot gear during protests in order to de-escalate the situation or training officers on how to make individual arrests without indiscriminately gassing a crowd.
Another solution to quell these demonstrations? Respond to the protester's demands.
Wheeler has made it clear, however, that he's not interested in further defunding PPB or committing more dollars towards social service programs or arresting police officers for abusing members of the public during protests.
Here's how Wheeler explained this stance in a recent interview with Willamette Week: "I think people are conflating police reform with budget cuts and eliminating police services. I am not hearing from the vast majority of my constituents that they want less public safety. What I'm hearing them say is they want better public safety."
Wheeler has not publicly responded to PPB's condemnation of the CS ban.
PPB's statement didn't keep the bureau's rank-and-file union, the Portland Police Association (PPA), from also condemning Wheeler's actions—and filing an official grieving in response.
In a Friday press release, PPA President Daryl Turner writes that, "This ban will blow up in the Mayor’s face."
"What he does not seem to understand is that the CS ban will force officers to use more impact munitions and use more physical force to disperse crowds," Turner continues. "His decision hurts community safety and impacts officer safety. In response to the Mayor’s reckless and short-sighted decision, the PPA filed a grievance earlier this morning in an effort to protect the communities we serve and officer safety when riots and violence occur in our streets."