PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After a group of 100 vandals smashed windows and left graffiti on dozens of buildings in downtown Portland on Tuesday, causing an estimated $500,000 in repairs, a Portland police lieutenant told Pearl District residents a new state law prevents them from intervening in these instances.
Officers were called to respond citywide, and all but the highest priority life safety 911 calls were left to hold so officers could be dispatched, according to PPB.
Portland Police Lt. Jake Jensen told residents in the Pearl District during a neighborhood meeting on Thursday evening that a new police reform law in Oregon — HB 2928 — dramatically limits their options to intervene during protests and declared unlawful assemblies and riots.
The bill, which passed in April 2021, regulates officers’ use of chemical munitions, such as pepper spray, kinetic impact materials and sound devices, and prohibits the use of them for crowd control, unless the use of force is otherwise authorized by the statute.
Lt. Jensen said officers didn’t directly intervene in downtown Portland on Tuesday night because of this law, and that instead, investigators will work to track down those behind the vandalism later.
A KOIN 6 News reporter witnessed the vandalism unfold on Tuesday night, and witnessed police stay in their patrol vehicles.
State Rep. Janelle Bynum, who sponsored the bill, told KOIN 6 News she worked with the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, Oregon Chiefs of Police, Oregon State Police, the League of Oregon Cities and Association of Oregon Counties when crafting the slew of police oversight legislation that was voted on this spring. The law enforcement organizations also wrote in support of the legislation.
When asked about what transpired on Tuesday night, Portland Police Association Executive Director Daryl Turner told KOIN 6 News there has been no clear communication from the City of Portland in regards to how officers should respond as a result of the legislation.
When officers can’t use chemical, impact and sound devices for crowd control, Portland police officers “can’t do our job,” Turner told KOIN 6 News. “And then we get blamed for not doing our job correctly when things don’t work out the way they should work out.”
Bynum told KOIN 6 News if the City of Portland has an urgent problem with the law, they need to say so, but at this point, they have not.
When asked by KOIN 6 News about whether the law was communicated properly to Portland police officers or if the officers were acting on their own interpretation of the law, a Portland Police Bureau spokesperson said in part: “The entire bureau membership has been made aware of the potential implications of House Bill 2928 and that it’s being analyzed by the City Attorney’s Office. PPB command always takes into account the legal restrictions we are under…when considering any course of action.”
Though the City Attorney’s Office declined to comment, the mayor’s office said:
“As is common practice with state legislation that affects City of Portland operation, our legal team at the City Attorney’s office is reviewing HB2928 to better understand how it will affect PPB’s operation during the management of crowds. We will be working closely with our colleagues at the Oregon State Legislature and Department of Justice for further clarification to remain in compliance with this new law.”