Portland police patrolling a protest in July.
Portland police patrolling a protest in July. Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

Portland City Council has taken a first step in limiting the use of military-style weapons by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) against members of the public.

On Wednesday, city commissioners unanimously passed a resolution requiring that PPB request permission from City Council before purchasing certain weapons for officer use, including explosive impact munitions, armored vehicles, drones, and specialized firearms. In their requests, PPB must explain why these military-grade weapons are necessary for local law enforcement use and what policies are in place to regulate their use.

The resolution also instructs PPB to keep a clear inventory of all military-style equipment—as defined by the Obama Administration in 2015—used during protests or other crowd control events, and update commissioners on those amounts on a quarterly basis.

This council decision follows months of protests against racism and police brutality in Portland, demonstrations that police responded to with military-grade munitions, like tear gas, rubber bullets, explosives, smoke canisters, and other chemicals weapons. These munitions resulted in hundreds of injuries among members of the public and several ongoing federal lawsuits against the city.

While PPB records show the bureau spent upwards of $80,000 on these weapons this summer, police officials have been unable to give a clear answer on how many of each type of munitions were used and how many remain in PPB's stockpiles.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who introduced the resolution Wednesday, said the new regulations don't go as far as she'd hoped. Eudaly initially sought to ban military-style weapons from PPB outright, but said the request was undermined by sections of the city's current settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice regarding PPB use of force. Until the city is released from the settlement agreement, a move that could take place as soon as 2021, commissioner are unable to further restrict the types of so-called "less lethal" weapons in PPB's arsenal.

"There are both regulatory and political reasons why we can't do more right now," Eudaly said Wednesday. "But the very least we can do is create more transparent and open information for members of the public."

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty echoed Eudaly's lament before casting her vote.

"While I wish we could have done more, at this time ... it's the best that we can do today," Hardesty said.

The first report on what military-style weapons remain in PPB's inventory is due before City Council on January 27.