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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on redefining public safety, use of tear gas and spikes of COVID-19

We talked with Governor Kate Brown about her take on defunding the police and if she's anxious about protests being a hot spot for coronavirus spread.

PORTLAND, Ore — It's quite the time to be in a position of power. We are in a pandemic, there’s an uprising against systemic racism and a call on leadership to redefine what policing looks like. So, we talked to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown about all of it.

We dove right in by asking Gov. Brown what her opinion is on the phrase “defund the police.”

“I am absolutely committed to taking actions that ensure the safety of all of our communities,” she said.

There were two things that she pointed to, first, working with the People of Color Caucus and seeing what proposals they bring to the legislative special session. Second, she wants to “re-examine” training policies and accountability measures that are in place.

“Here’s also what I do know, actions need to be taken. Good intentions, words are not enough. We have to tackle the racial injustice in this state, in this country. I am absolutely committed to taking that action and making that happen," Brown said.

We followed-up by asking the governor to address the concern that cutting money to law enforcement could lead to a rise in crime. She responded by saying that as a state and a country, people need to look at the “root causes of violence.”

It is her belief that the way forward is through investing in “seamless education from cradle to career.”

A big discussion that is happening in Portland right now is over the use of tear gas or CS gas.  There are several lawsuits revolving around the use of tear gas by Portland police – and a federal judge ruled that police can only use it when “lives or the safety of the public or the police are at risk.”

RELATED: Judge restricts Portland police's use of tear gas for 14 days

Brown said she believes the use of tear gas against protesters is unacceptable. After being pressed, she said she does not think tear gas should be used on protesters under any circumstance. She said that this all goes back to training officers and making sure they have the proper tools to keep communities safe.

In news conference last week, Brown said Mayor Wheeler had asked her to deploy the National Guard. Brown said she didn’t want “soldiers on the streets” of Portland. She also criticized President Trump’s call for National Guard troops in cities as a scare tactic to intimidate Americans.

That said, the Portland Police Bureau uses military-grade equipment, armored vehicles, flash bang grenades, military-grade protective gear, and assault rifles, like the guns carried by Marines at war. We asked Governor Brown if she believes police should be disarmed of military-grade levels of protection and weaponry.

She didn’t give directly answer the question. She pointed to the fact that the state needs to do a better job of training officers and use better tactics and strategies. She said she hopes these steps will create a more just and equitable Oregon.

“I think we need to re-envision how our law enforcement operates in this country,” Brown said.

From there, the interview with Governor Brown pivoted to the coronavirus pandemic. We asked if she is anxious that protests will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases and slow down the reopening of Oregon.

She said that whether the protest was of people rallying at the Capitol to oppose Oregon’s stay-home order or the thousands that have gathered nightly to protest police brutality, she is worried about the spread of COVID-19. She encouraged everyone to practice their First Amendment rights but do so safely, wear a face covering, maintain social distancing and use hand sanitizer.

You can watch The Story with Dan Haggerty at 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. If there's a story you would like us to dig deeper into, you can email thestory@kgw.com or use the hashtag #HeyDan on Twitter.

RELATED: Health expert explains Oregon's recent spike in COVID-19 cases

WATCH: Full interview with Governor Kate Brown

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