PORTLAND -- Police used lessons learned from around the country to diffuse volatile protests from Occupy Portland.
As the clock ticked toward midnight Saturday, thousands gathered at the Occupy Portland encampment at Lownsdale and Chapman Square parks and spilled onto the surrounding streets.
Protesters prepared for an assault from police that, unknown to them, was not going to happen. It was a lesson police learned after weeks of research across the nation.
Our plan was never to go in at 12:01 am and clear the park, said Portland Police Assistant Chief Larry O Dea. We knew there were would be a lot of people in there, a lot of people coming downtown to see that and the results of that would have been nothing but a major confrontation.
As the night wore on the tension built between the crowd and police. Then, as part of their de-escalation strategy police stepped back. O Dea said it was a deliberate move.
At one point there was enough people there and pushing that we made the decision --- rather than cause a confrontation we would have had to use a lot of force merely to keep a street open. It didn t make any sense to use that force just to keep the street open, he said.
The decision was made lets pull back over here. Let the street fill up. Let people continue to celebrate a little bit and then we can safely clear the street in a non-confrontational manner, said O Dea.
On the other side of the line, protest leaders like Micaiah Dutt used his experience as a former Marine sergeant who had held back crowds during his four tours of duty in Iraq. He knew it was critical to avoid a flash point.
And then someone threw something at police.
I remember seeing it get lobbed over and thinking like 'why?' It was just like, one person, five thousand people, and one person throws something. I was pretty upset, Dutt said.
Dutt and others immediately formed a line to help buffer the police from the crowd.
We were not trying to start a riot, Dutt said. In cases where you get a few thousand people or even a few hundred, you always have a few people who just want to set stuff off.
Saturday night, one of those people was 23 year old Cameron Scott Matta.
The crowd shoved Matta into the street at police after he allegedly threw something, injuring an officer's leg. Police arrested Matta on charges of disorderly conduct, interfering with a police officer and harassment.
The weekend was something sociologist Randy Blazak says should serve as an example for the rest of the country.
I think that was sort of a lesson, Blazak said. Other police departments should look at what Portland experienced Saturday night, Sunday morning as a model of how to de-escalate, he said.