The city’s Independent Police Review (IPR) has released a critical review of how Portland police handle protests—just days before another major mashup of protests is expected to come to downtown Portland.
In the internal policy investigation, IPR specifically looks at how police officers managed a protest that took place on June 4, 2017, which pitted alt-right activists against a number of progressive and far-left organizations.
The protest was originally billed by alt-right group Patriot Prayer as a “Free Speech Rally,” but its timing—days after the horrific MAX stabbings—inspired other activist groups to show up and rally in solidarity with the MAX victims and protest Patriot Prayer’s pro-Trump agenda.
Those overlapping protests ended chaotically, with Portland police rounding up and detaining at least 300 people, not letting them leave until officers had photographed and taken down the identification of each person corralled. This specific tactic, often called “kettling,” has been the focus of several court cases involving the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), including a class-action lawsuit filed by ACLU Oregon and a complaint filed by Jeremy Ibarra, a protester arrested during the June 4 protest (he’s since been found not guilty by a jury). In both cases, lawyers argue the PPB violated protesters’ constitutional rights by not relying on individual probable cause by detaining hundreds of people at a time.
The IPR agrees—kind of.
In a 15-page analysis of the June protest, IPR points to certain police tactics conducted without “legal justification” that could put the city at risk. It’s safe to assume this “risk” is a lawsuit—similar to the ones already piling up against PPB. The IPR office received at least 27 complaints linked to this specific protest, prompting the year-long investigation—which has ended in a list of policy recommendations.
While the IPR—made up of investigators, lawyers, and other policy experts—has the authority to recommend changes to the police bureau, the city department can’t force the PPB to follow those recommendations.
According to IPR Director Constantin Severe, that's when the public can get involved.
“Our goal is the educate the public,” Severe explains. “We have the ability to view documents that members of the community may not have full access to, and provide some clarity on police policy. Members of the community can use our investigation to hold the police accountable.”
To provide some additional clarity, we’ve broken down the major takeaways from the IPR review below.
On mass detention:
Like the legal cases we’ve seen pop up after the June 4 protest, the IPR found “little documentation” from the PPB proving officers had enough evidence to detain hundreds of protesters for “disorderly conduct.”
“Police reports indicated that those detained were not questioned about disorderly conduct prior to their release,” the report reads. “Some community members said they were not told why they were detained.”
Without offering any legal justification for arresting a person (or in this case 300 people), these officers put the city at risk.
According to the IPR, the police bureau has no written policy around temporary detentions and other police stops, including mass arrests. IPR’s Severe says this was a particularly concerning discovery.
“Having a ‘stop’ policy… that’s the nuts and bolts of policing,” he told the Mercury.
The IPR recommends PPB create a clear policy around mass detentions, including direction on what warnings officers must give before detaining people, how long people can be held (and if the weather impacts that), and at what point officers have to provide food, water, and a bathroom break to detainees. Fun bonus! IPR says this policy should prohibit officers from sweeping up members of the media in their mass detentions.
On taking photos and asking for identification:
After first denying his officers took any photos of the detained protesters, then-PPB Chief Mike Marshman explained these photos were taken to “speed up the process.” According to IPR, these photos were uploaded to a PPB server, where they still remain.
“The Police Bureau does not have a retention policy for digital image data, allowing for photos to be held permanently until staff are told to delete them,” the report explains. And, because of the lawsuits against PPB, those photos are currently on “legal hold”—unable to be deleted until the cases are closed.
The IPR’s recommendation is straightforward: stop photographing people without their written consent, unless they are explicitly charged with a crime.
On treating protesters equally:
Many members of the left-leaning groups that participated in the June 4 clash (including Rose City Antifa, union groups, and interfaith groups) believed they were unfairly targeted by police. They were specifically irked when PPB officers decided to detain hundreds of protesters from the Antifa contingent, while letting Patriot Prayer members walk free.
IPR says this imbalance was largely based on poor communication.
A PPB lieutenant told IPR that Patriot Prayer was treated differently because Rose City Antifa wasn’t as responsive to text messages officers were sending to the organization’s members. They “lacked a hierarchical structure with a clear leader,” which “made it difficult for [the Police Bureau] to find a single point of contact to convey information.”
Jurisdictional issues could have also led to imbalanced treatment, IPR’s report notes, since PPB officers called in help from Oregon state troopers that afternoon. According to the IPR, the police bureau’s intergovernmental agreements for crowd control tactics haven’t been substantially updated since the early 2000s—and lack orders that guarantee agencies will follow PPB use-of-force policies when assisting PPB officers.
The IPR recommends PPB update those policies and create “a transparent and comprehensive strategy to better communicate with the public prior to and during large crowd control events.”
PPB has already issued a response to the policy review, in which it rejects a few of the IPR’s suggestions—citing lack of time to create a new crowd control policy.
"Yes, it's a time-consuming process," Severe says. "But, at the same time, it's one of these things that could become a liability issue for the city if not addressed."
Severe also notes that any modern police department should "have an organizational philosophy" written out and easily accessible to the public. It appears, PPB does not have such doctrine.
Which is where this review leaves us—days before Sunday, June 3, when some of the same activists from last year’s protest will reconvene in front of Portland City Hall for another dustup. Severe says the timing is purely coincidental.
"We just wanted to make sure policy review came out as soon as possible," he says.
Either way, this weekend's protests offers an obvious opportunity for Portland police to show whether or not they're listening to these new recommendations.
We'll be there. Stay tuned.