Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Scolds Police for Publicly Defending Use of Tear Gas: ‘Serious Breach of Protocol’

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler reacts after being exposed to tear gas fired by federal officers while attending a protest against police brutality and racial injustice in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 22, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. State and city elected officials have called for the …
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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) reprimanded the Portland Police Bureau for publicly defending the use of tear gas, calling it a “serious breach of protocol and an inappropriate use of City communications resources.”

“PPB’s decision to put out a press release questioning my direction was a serious breach of protocol and an inappropriate use of City communications resources,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I made it clear, in no uncertain terms, to the Chief that this cannot happen again.”

Last week, Wheeler, who also serves as the city’s police commissioner, ordered officers to cease their use of CS gas on violent rioters “effective immediately and until further notice”:

The Portland Police Bureau responded publicly, issuing a comprehensive statement on September 10, in which it stressed that banning the use of tear gas “will make it very difficult to address this kind of violence without resorting to much higher levels of physical force, with a correspondingly elevated risk of serious injury to members of the public and officers.”

“CS, while effective, is a significantly lower level of force than impact weapons, which would very likely be necessary to disperse riotous groups with its prohibition,” the bureau stated. “We do not want to use gas. We do not want to use any force.”

Authorities added that CS gas had been used “sparingly” during the 100-plus days of protests, emphasizing that it was last used to disperse a crowd after someone threw a Molotov cocktail at officers, which injured someone nearby:

We want to clear up a misconception that it is being used as crowd control. It is not. It is being used to disperse crowds only when there is a life safety event. Most recently, it was used to disperse a crowd from which a Molotov cocktail was thrown at officers and ended up injuring a community member who was on fire. We understand that this gas seeped into nearby homes and that is not something we desire. However, the community should be asking the rioters why they are committing violence that threatens the very lives of others nearby. When people gather lawfully, peacefully, there is no need for intervention by police, much less the use of CS gas. That is evident from several nights, even within the last 104 days, when people gathered and police had no need to interact to prevent crime or restore order. In fact, that happens all the time in Portland.

“Arson, vandalism, and violence are not going to drive change in this community,” the bureau concluded. “A Police Bureau without the necessary tools to protect its own members, or the community it serves, will not successfully help create the space for real change agents to do the hard work they hope to accomplish.”

Wheeler reportedly sent a scathing email to Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell the following day.

“While I do not often issue directives to the Portland Police Bureau, when I do I expect them to be followed,” he said in part. “Civilian oversight of the Police Bureau is set in the Portland City Charter, and every sworn officer takes an oath to abide by that charter. Professionalism and public service demand nothing less.”

A spokesperson for the bureau said authorities “will be responsive to and follow the mayor’s direction.”

Wheeler also said Lovell “affirmed that there was never any intention of disobeying the directive.”

The Portland mayor is hardly the only Democrat figure to take a hardline public stance against the use of tear gas. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) took it a step further, stating that police officers in Portland — and across the nation — should be disarmed. He also called for a nationwide ban on tear gas:

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