Between January 2016 and January 2020, Portland police officers used physical force and weapons to quell protests a total of 778 times. Between April 1 and June 30 of this year, however, Portland cops applied force against protesters 2,378 times.
The amount of force used against protests during this three-month period alone is three times the amount used by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) in the past four years. This uptick aligns with Portland's large racial justice protests, which began on May 30—and have continued almost nightly since. Portland saw the largest crowds turn out for these protests in June and July, with some evenings drawing out 10,000 demonstrators.
PPB's audit team broke down the types and amount of force used during the protests' first 32 days in a November 11 presentation before the police bureau's Training Advisory Council. The data comes directly from officers who are required to self-report their own use of force after every protest.
While force data like this is usually included in PPB's quarterly use of force reports, this specific information on force used during protests—or "crowd control"—was previously missing from PPB's report covering this three month period. A PPB spokesperson previously said this was because the "sheer magnitude and volume of reports has overwhelmed the system and caused huge bottlenecks." The delay put PPB out of compliance with mandated reforms under a Department of Justice settlement agreement.
The Wednesday presentation was the first time PPB shared this new data with the public.
According to the new data, officers used a variety of tactics to stifle protesters—including firing so-called "less lethal" impact munitions at people a total of 976 times during the first 32 days of protests. Those munitions include dense projectiles shot from FN 303 guns, rubber bullets, projectiles that painfully mark people with colored paint, and rubber bullets. On 577 occasions, police reported using "control against resistance" on members of the public, meaning officers used physical force to restrain a "struggling individual" (according to PPB's own definition). Police also tackled protesters to the ground 147 times, and hit people with batons 87 times.
During these 32 days of protest, police fired canisters of CS gas—the most widely used form of tear gas by law enforcement—203 times and different forms of pepper spray (handheld and in vapor cloud form) a total of 304 times. PPB and the City of Portland are currently tied up in several lawsuits for its decision to fire these chemicals indiscriminately into large crowds of people, where the vast majority of victims were not suspected of committing any crimes. Mayor Ted Wheeler banned PPB's use of CS gas in September, after police employed it regularly at protests for three months straight.
The total of 2,378 use of force incidents is likely an underestimation. In the PPB presentation, auditors note that, "if no clear estimate was given (for example ' I pushed multiple persons at multiple locations with my baton throughout the night'), then this force type was counted as one application [of force]." In other words, an officer who hit dozens of people with their baton during a protest would only be reported as one incident.
This concentrated violence against demonstrators by PPB is unmatched by officers' actions at protests in recent years. The last time PPB used CS gas on crowds was in 2017—12 times during Donald Trump's Inauguration Day protest on January 20, and 16 times during a Patriot Prayer rally on September 10. Perhaps the most comparable protests in the past four years came immediately after the November 2016 election, where Portland police fired less-lethal munitions 112 times over the course of three days.
In 2018, PPB used force during protests a total of 205 times. In 2019, that number was whittled down to 64.
This new data still only represents a sliver of police force used against protesters during this year's demonstrations. Portland police made 327 arrests related to protest activity between April 1 and June 30, the time period that this data reflects. Since then, the arrests number has grown to 1,026. And Portland is still seeing smaller, yet consistent nightly protests on its streets.
Portland Copwatch, a police accountability group, commented on the new data Thursday, noting the early decision to find PPB "out of compliance" with the DOJ for failing to report these numbers early.
"It would seem that, on its face, the PPB is also out of control in using weapons on Portland community members," the statement reads