Portland mayor, police chief send messages of support to LEOs amid protest criticism

The mayor also responded to a rebuke from the police union president that he has handcuffed officers from taking swift action against brawling demonstrators


By Maxine Bernstein
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw on Tuesday sent separate memos to the police force, reassuring officers of their support in the wake of criticism after violence broke out at the latest downtown protest.

Wheeler also responded to a rebuke from the police union president that he has handcuffed officers from taking swift action against brawling demonstrators. Wheeler characterized Officer Daryl Turner’s remarks as “misinformation’’ and “false.’’

Multiple groups, including Rose City Antifa, the Proud Boys and conservative activist Haley Adams protest in downtown Portland, Ore., Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)
Multiple groups, including Rose City Antifa, the Proud Boys and conservative activist Haley Adams protest in downtown Portland, Ore., Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

The memos came two days after the city made national news, with video images of a conservative writer and two other men getting attacked during roaming demonstrations Saturday.

Outlaw’s memo offered her first detailed comments to Saturday’s protests and police response.

“These events are challenging and take a toll on us,’’ Outlaw wrote.

“Our agency and actions are highly scrutinized, and we often hear and see negative headlines during and after these events. If we make arrests, some say they were the wrong individuals or that we are favoring one side. If we use force, some say it is too much, and we are too aggressive. Then we also frequently hear we have not done enough.

“The reality is, a lot of effort and planning goes into these events and you are highly trained professionals.’’

The chief said the bureau is open to learning and that she’ll continue to try to shine light on “the barriers we face during these incidents’’ to prevent violence.

Outlaw has previously said police can’t be everywhere to stop an assault during protests and that officers sometimes aren’t sent in to make immediate arrests to avoid inciting a tense crowd.

The expressions of support from Outlaw and Wheeler follow private listening sessions they held with officers in spring after they heard grumblings from many rank-and-file officers who expressed anger at the mayor’s swift condemnation of friendly texts between Lt. Jeff Niiya, a crowd control liaison now under internal investigation, and Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson. After those sessions, both leaders vowed to show their support for officers going forward.

In his memo, Wheeler thanked officers for their difficult work trying to keep the peace during potentially volatile situations. He denounced the violence that broke out Saturday and said police did their job professionally.

“The recent demonstration brought people into our city bent on clashing, and you remained consummate professionals. You did your job and you served the community well,’’ Wheeler wrote.

The mayor said he condemns violence of all forms and addressed what he called a “perception’’ that he, as police commissioner, has restricted officers’ abilities to enforce the law.

Wheeler didn’t identify Turner by name in his memo to officers but said, “My directives to the Chief and to you have always remained the same: ensure public safety and uphold the law. I have not and will not dictate tactics or place so-called ‘handcuffs’ on you because I rely on the extensive knowledge and experience of our Bureau to do what is needed based on the situation at hand.’’

But in separate comments on Facebook, Wheeler specifically responded to the union president and accused Turner of “politicizing the Bureau’’ by spreading false information that “spins up extremists and oversimplifies a very complex, fraught political dynamic in our city.”

Turner had urged the mayor, who also serves as the city’s police commissioner, to boldly proclaim that city won’t tolerate any violence from “both Antifa and Proud Boys’’ and “remove the handcuffs’’ that are restraining police from stopping violence “through strong and swift enforcement.’’ Turner said police need to be able to cite, detain or arrest anyone violating the law during unpermitted protests. Otherwise, he said, demonstrators "feel empowered to attack others.''

Wheeler, in turn, accused Turner of “ginning up anger without offering any real solutions impedes progress.”

Some commenters responded on the mayor’s Facebook page with support for Wheeler, encouraging him to “stay the course.’’ Others suggested Wheeler “suit up alongside’’ officers at protests or claimed his “liberal policies are ruining Portland.’’

“It’s violence and has continued is the point. WHY? Because you see it coming and do nothing,’’ wrote another commenter.

©2019 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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