PORTLAND, Ore — Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell on Tuesday defended the police bureau's limited response to Saturday's dueling protests that turned into violent brawls between alt-right and Proud Boy factions and left-wing protesters in downtown Portland.
Police did not declare a riot and officers made no arrests.
"The police in that situation, we had a number of skirmishes that took place, or altercations, but they were really quick in nature," Lovell said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Lovell said it would have taken any of the officers assigned to crowd control a long time to get into the situation to break up the brawls.
“The question is a risk-reward question," Lovell said. "The interjection of police into that crowd, too, has its own dynamic also that we were really mindful of. So, I think from the vantage point we had, we had a really good view of what was going on in the altercations taking place."
Portland police said because of ongoing nightly protests and other calls for service, only 30 officers were assigned crowd management Saturday afternoon.
"If you start to move that crowd into the blocks, you could have several skirmishes taking place,” said Lovell.
When asked what it would it take for police to respond in that situation, Lovell said, "If there was a situation where someone was being beaten or their life or safety was in immediate danger and we felt that we could get there to intervene to extract in that instance, then I think that would be an area where we would intervene."
Many members of the right-wing group were armed with handguns and rifles. One alt-right member was caught on video pointing a handgun at the opposing crowd, with his finger on the trigger. Lovell said police are looking for that person.
“There’s an expectation that we will do what we can to keep people safe but we can’t be everywhere and intervene in every situation," Lovell said. "We have to make some determinations on what is safe to do, what is prudent to do and what’s not.”
On Monday night, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler released a statement on Saturday's protests:
“I vehemently oppose what the Proud Boys and those associated with them stand for, and I will not tolerate hate speech and the damage it does in our city. White nationalists, particularly those coming to our city armed, threaten the safety of Portlanders, and are not welcome here," Wheeler said. "Regarding Saturday afternoon’s protest, I am closely reviewing and discussing with Chief Lovell Portland Police Bureau’s strategy to limit their intervention in the right-wing protests and counter-demonstrations. We will share more information with the public. We are at a critical place where police officers are needed to intervene in protests where police officers themselves are the flashpoint.”
Portland is now in its 13th week of nightly protests since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
A chaotic weekend saw 46 people arrested over three nights of riots. Police declared a riot Monday night outside the Portland Police Association headquarters after two fires were set outside the building.
Lovell said the strain on resources is affecting call times for others in emergencies.
“I’ve seen as many as 80 calls holding,” he said. "We have to be able to staff the nightly crowd control activities, but the officers we use for staffing that on our rapid response team come from patrol."
"If you get a shooting or something that requires a lot of resources, there’s just no one to go sometimes,” said Lovell.
Lovell said more than 50 people have retired from the police bureau in August.
"We're a lean agency, so we have to staff our resources as best we can," he said.