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OSP, MCSO won't help with crowd control at Proud Boys rally because of Portland tear gas ban

Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office say not being able to use tear gas increases the risk of physical injury of officers or protesters.
Credit: AP
Joseph Oakman, a member of the Proud Boys, wears body armor during an "End Domestic Terrorism" rally in Portland, Ore., on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. Right-wing groups and counterprotesters gathered in downtown Portland and authorities set up concrete barriers and closed streets in an effort to contain the two groups.(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

PORTLAND, Ore. — UPDATE: Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office will lead crowd management response efforts during Saturday's planned rallies in Portland by the Proud Boys, a far-right group, and various anti-fascist groups. Read more

Original story below:

Oregon State Police (OSP) and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) have denied a request from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) for help with crowd control during Saturday's planned rallies between far-right groups and anti-fascist groups because of the city's ban on the use of tear gas.

In letters to PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis, both OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton and MCSO Sheriff Mike Reese cited the restriction on tear gas as a primary reason for denying PPB's request.

On Sept. 10, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler ordered PPB to stop using tear gas, or CS gas, for crowd control during protests.

RELATED: Mayor Wheeler orders Portland police to stop using tear gas during protests

"You ask for OSP crowd control units to police an element that is well known to have violent interactions, including the carrying, display and use of firearms," Hampton wrote. "As you know, CS gas mitigates the need for officers to utilize deadly physical force in these circumstances, particularly in large open spaces like the planned event location at Delta Park.

"By removing this tool from officers, this forces us (you) to insert physical bodies in between potentially violent and hostile crowds, increasing the risk of serious physical injury or death of officers and community members."

Hampton also cited PPB's lack of use of body cameras as a reason for denying the request. In 2014, a federal judge urged the city of Portland to put body-worn cameras on its officers, but for multiple reasons, the policy has never been implemented in Portland.

WATCH: Why don’t Portland police wear body cameras?

Hampton said if the decision to ban tear gas is revisited, OSP is willing to reconsider.

"OSP has used CS gas judiciously, although it is a tool we must have available for community safety, officer safety and best policing practices," Hampton said.

Hampton said OSP will provide "uniform patrol coverage" to assist PPB in "interdicting the criminal element before they arrived at the event(s) and maintain a mobile response for anticipated flash points." He also said OSP will provide PPB with specialized vehicles and armor if they ask for it.

In a separate letter to Davis, Reese said he had similar concerns about the ban on the use of tear gas.

"We are concerned that the prohibition on the use of CS gas leaves PPB with no sound tactical options to quickly disperse a large crowd engaged in dangerous acts of violence," Reese wrote. "If officers have to use high levels of physical force to protect the safety of the participants, it may lead to substantial injuries and may not be effective in achieving the desired outcome."

Reese said MCSO won't make its Rapid Response Team available to PPB for those reasons, but did commit to help with processing any people arrested and assisting with patrol duties in East Portland to free up additional PPB officers.

The far-right group Proud Boys have announced a plan to hold a rally in North Portland's Delta Park on Saturday at noon, though Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz denied their permit on Wednesday due to COVID-19 social distancing requirements.

RELATED: Permit for Portland Proud Boys rally denied due to COVID-19 concerns, city says

In response to the planned protest at Delta Park, multiple anti-fascist groups have planned to gather at the same time at North Portland's Peninsula Park, about 3 miles away. Another group, Safe PDX Protest, said they plan to meet at Delta Park before the Proud Boys rally begins. 

Portland police said they're keeping tabs on another potential protest planned at Waterfront Park.

Portland police say they're developing a plan to manage traffic and thwart potential violence that could erupt at the events, given the groups' violent clashes in the past. PPB announced it's staffing up to deal with the expected crowd and working with other local agencies.

"We've had instances where groups have tried to come together and have altercations with each other. We are not wanting to see that in our city," Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell said in a press conference Thursday.

"We're trying to have a lot more resources in place and a lot more visible uniform police presence, rather than a heavy focus on crowd management," deputy chief Chris Davis added.

MCSCO Sheriff Mike Reese said police are anticipating a crowd of 1,000 to 3,000 people. Organizers for the Proud Boys rally said they expect 20,000 people.

The Proud Boys permit application states, in part: "We the people are tired of incompetent city leadership who neuters police and allows violent gangs of rioting felons to run the streets..."

They've billed the event as a rally to "end domestic terrorism". 

Chief Lovell is pleading for peace, especially after all the devastation the area has experienced this year.

"It's OK for us to disagree about things but at the end of day doing so peacefully, letting people exercise their rights safely, is very important. So that's my ask," he said.

City, county and state leaders urged anyone coming to Portland intent on picking a fight to stay away. 

"When you have groups like that there is no healing, there's only hate and hate has no place in Portland or Oregon," Sen. James I. Manning Jr. (D-Eugene) said.

The legislature's Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) caucus asked counter protesters to stay away from the right-wing rally.

"We're encouraging peaceful protesters to stay in their areas and when they finish just go back," Sen. Manning added.

City officials say drivers should be prepared for the rallies to cause traffic on I-5, which is already impacted by a closure on the bridge.

Read the full letter from OSP Superintendent Hampton:

Good morning, Deputy Chief Davis

As you know, OSP’s resources are extremely taxed as we manage community needs throughout Oregon- in response to the devastating wildfires. OSP and National Guard personnel are in high demand in rural Oregon, as we manage road closures and patrol for criminal activity in evacuated locations. This is on top of our normal call load and policing duties.

Even with these demands, OSP recognizes the mutual aid need for the City of Portland and our long standing colleagues at the Portland Police Bureau. OSP is willing to make a resource investment, although we have some serious reservations on your request relating to crowd control.

I understand PPB is unable to use CS gas in performance of their duties and OSP will not operate under these circumstances. I recognize this is not a decision made by PPB, but you are duty bound to meet these expectations, including your incident commanders that may exercise control of my personnel. You ask for OSP crowd control units to police an element that is well known to have violent interactions- including the carrying, display and use of firearms. As you know, CS gas mitigates the need for officers to utilize deadly physical force in these circumstances, particularly in large open spaces like the planned event location at Delta Park. By removing this tool from officers, this forces us (you) to insert physical bodies in between potentially violent and hostile crowds- increasing the risk of serious physical injury or death of officers and community members. This also significantly increases the need for additional law enforcement personnel. The conflict is highly predictable.

Additionally, due to circumstances beyond the control of PPB, your officers assigned to crowd control duties are unable to utilize the OSP body worn cameras the Governor had previously offered. Independent of the obvious value of evidence preservation and the prosecution aid, these cameras supply an element of officer accountability. OSP is receiving broad discovery requests for hundreds of body camera footage hours, to support PPB arrests- if our cameras may have happened to capture evidence of the conduct. This is extremely resource intensive for OSP, having to review continuous body camera footage from over 100 troopers that span many months of mutual aid.

For the above reasons, OSP is reluctant to offer troopers to support PPB’s crowd control elements. If the decision amend the CS gas prohibition is revisited, we are willing to discuss resource allocation. OSP has used CS gas judiciously, although it is a tool we must have available for community safety, officer safety and best policing practices.

OSP will offer uniform patrol coverage to aid PPB in the event. OSP troopers specialize in criminal apprehension through patrol efforts, so this is a natural function for us to assume- in recognition of your request. These patrols, a number to be determined, would aid PPB is interdicting the criminal element before they arrived at the event(s) and maintain a mobile response for anticipated flash points. We will also make available, if you request, specialized vehicles and armor to aid in officer rescue and the transport of personnel.

I will be in the command post the day of the event to support the Bureau and OSP operations, and of course welcome the dialogue as you finalize the operational planning. Nothing in this response is a reflection of PPB command staff, whom I have the highest respect and admiration.

Travis

Read the full letter from MCSO Sheriff Mike Reese: