Portland police officers who join the city’s new riot squad will get a 6 percent pay bump.

The council unanimously approved a letter of agreement with the Portland Police Association–the union representing rank-and-file officers–to offer an additional 6 percent of an officer’s base salary if they agree to work on a new public order team to respond to protests and public demonstrations. The pay will boost an officer’s annual salary, regardless of how many times they respond to an event as part of the new team. Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers have traditionally received hazard pay for similar assignments.

According to the emergency ordinance, PPB wants to put together a team with “specific expertise in providing police services during public order events.”

“The City and PPA agree that it is helpful to provide a premium pay incentive to attract high quality officers to this work,” the city’s ordinance states. The city is trying to rebuild a crowd control squad with new training recommendations after several lawsuits and complaints of excessive use of force by prior officers.

Like other special teams within PPB, officers will likely apply to serve on the team, in addition to their regular police assignments.

The recommendation for a public order team came from Independent Monitor, LLC–a firm hired by the city to evaluate PPB’s response to the 2020 protests and riots. The firm was hired to try to keep the city in line with a standing settlement agreement between the city and the US Department of Justice over past policing practices.

“This new public order team must be rigorously scrutinized by PPB executives, overseen by Portland’s new oversight agency, and transparently introduced to the public,” the firm wrote in a 2023 report.

Independent Monitor LLC also concluded Portland police need to rebuild the bureau’s mutual aid network with neighboring law enforcement agencies, and said the bureau needs updated training on effective crowd control tactics and de-escalation. Evaluators also said PPB must “dramatically reduce its reliance on riot control agents like CS gas.” 

CS gas, also known as tear gas, was frequently used by PPB during the 2020 racial justice protests.

The bureau says it’s currently working to implement the recommendations in the training assessments and overall evaluations from Independent Monitor.

PPB has yet to announce how big the public order team will be, or when recruitment will begin.

Mike Benner, a spokesperson for the bureau, told the Mercury “that process is underway,” and PPB expects to announce more about its plans for the team shortly.

Past crowd control tactics spurred multiple lawsuits

As protests endured in 2020, PPB relied on its Rapid Response team, which frequently donned riot gear and deployed pepper spray or tear gas to disperse protesters. The team also carried batons.

A study later determined the indiscriminate use of tear gas, also called CS gas, far exceeded safe levels, according to standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The study found the particles in the air on a particular night in June of 2020 were high enough to cause “serious short-term and long-term side effects.”

A few months later, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler prohibited local police from using the gas in crowd control situations, after the city was hit with a lawsuit by Don’t Shoot PDX and protesters. 

In June 2021, after the routine public demonstrations had largely died down, a Multnomah County grand jury indicted a member of PPB’s Rapid Response Team on a fourth degree assault charge, stemming from force used during a protest. 

In response, the entire Rapid Response Team resigned from the special assignment the following day, returning to their normal work. PPB never revived the team, until now.

The enduring protests transformed the city’s national reputation. They also cost the city millions in damages to buildings and later, legal settlements from protesters suing for injuries sustained from police.

By mid-2023, the city agreed to pay out over $3 million in settlements in more than 75 bodily injury claims against PPB stemming from the 2020 protests.