Rapid Response Team Members Resign

Photo: KATU

Photo: KATU

On June 16, 2021, Portland Police Bureau employees serving as members of the Rapid Response Team (RRT) left their voluntary positions and no longer comprise a team. Its members were sworn employees of the Portland Police who served on RRT in addition to their daily assignment in the Bureau. Despite no longer serving on RRT, they will continue in their regular assignments. There were approximately 50 employees serving as RRT members.

The Rapid Response Team is an all-hazard incident response team that has received advanced specialized training to respond to incidents requiring higher levels of technical expertise including public order policing, natural or man-made disasters. The primary role has been to provide public safety at crowd events when there was a threat of harm to the community. All Rapid Response Team members are trained in advanced skills related to crowd management and crowd control including crowd psychology and behavior, team formations and movements, the use of enhanced personal protective equipment, use of force, de-escalation and arrests.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler released the following statement:

Late last night, I learned that the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team voted to resign their voluntary service on this crowd control unit.

The City of Portland has the personnel and the resources to ensure our community’s safety. I have directed the Portland Police Bureau to prepare mobile field forces to respond to any public safety needs, including potential violence related to mass gatherings. Also, I have spoken to Governor Brown, and the Oregon State Police is making members of its Mobile Response Team available on standby. We are also coordinating with other regional law enforcement partners.

Resigning members of the Rapid Response Team remain sworn members of the Portland Police Bureau. I want to acknowledge the toll this past year has taken on them and their families—they have worked long hours under difficult conditions. I personally heard from some of them today, and I appreciate their willingness to share their concerns about managing the many public gatherings that often were violent and destructive.

It is my expectation, and the community’s expectation, that the City remains committed to public safety and effective police oversight. City leaders will continue working in partnership with Portlanders, community organizations and police leadership to reform our community safety system.

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty issued the following statement:

Last summer, the entire world rose up to demand police accountability. It was an overdue demand that we fundamentally change community safety after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor joined the long list of Black community members unjustly killed by police across the country.

In Portland, we set the tone with 150+ days of protests. This was a remarkable dedication to racial justice that was praised by George Floyd’s brother Rodney after Officer Chauvin was convicted of murder.

Those standing for racial justice in the streets of Portland last summer encountered one of the most brutal police forces in the country: A nation leading 6,000+ use of force incidents, many captured on video by community members, which led to Portland police falling out of compliance with the 2014 federal settlement agreement. That settlement found Portland police officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. The conduct of some PPB officers last summer has also led to numerous active lawsuits that could continue to drain revenue from the City, along with unprecedented and unnecessary overtime costs.

The City’s DOJ compliance officer stated: “Portland police have failed to identify, document, review or manage officer use of force during protests that have gripped the city since late May…Because of the significant gaps in use of force reporting and training, the Police Bureau is no longer in “substantial compliance” with mandated reforms under the city’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Earlier this week, for the first time in Portland’s history, an officer from PPB’s Rapid Response Team was charged with a misdemeanor for assaulting a photojournalist during a protest last summer. Ironically, we now see some PPB officers engaging in the act they showed so much disdain for last summer by staging their own protest: resigning from the RRT the moment there is a possibility for accountability for inappropriate and potentially illegal conduct.

What today’s action says is that some Portland police officers believe they are above the law. I support District Attorney Mike Schmidt in his efforts to hold police officers accountable when they commit crimes themselves, because no one is above the law.

Portlanders have showed overwhelming support for police accountability, including:

• 150+ days of protest.

• 70,000+ email & phone contacts sent to each Council office last summer.

• 82% of Portland voters approving ballot measure 26-217, which will create a new system of independent oversight over PPB.

• Portland area elected leaders at the State Legislature proposing and passing a number of bills aimed at improving accountability within police departments throughout Oregon.

We should expect our police force to act in a way we can stand by, but when they don’t we need to have accountability systems in place. When will PPB recognize this overwhelming desire for change and align their values with the people of Portland? It’s been reported that only 18% of PPB officers actually live in Portland. This needs to change. We need community safety that leads with the progressive values of Portlanders at large.

I remain deeply concerned these RRT resignations are yet another example of a rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland.

A specific demand from the local racial justice movement was that we disband PPB’s Rapid Response Team. Based on RTT’s inability to appropriately de-escalate the situation on our streets last summer, I proposed disbanding RRT last Fall, but the majority of council wasn’t ready to commit to a fundamental rethinking of our systems of community safety.

Now we have an opportunity to show what crowd control and de-escalation in policing looks like without RRT – but it’s important to note that Council and the Mayor have the right and responsibility to decide what actions police take in the affirmative. We should formally disband the RRT, but through Council action.

What we have in front of us now is another opportunity to commit to change. Portlanders want their values represented in our system of public safety. Instead of scrambling to patch up the status quo, I hope Mayor Wheeler and my Council colleagues will see the opportunity I see in front of us to fundamentally rethink community safety for all, including how we respond to protests in the future. Clearly the model of policing we have doesn’t work.

It’s a new day following last summer. We just saw Juneteenth receive local, state, and federal recognition and this moment in time offers us a chance to critically analyze our past to bring positive change to our future. The good old boy network is crumbling and we can either be a part of the change or part of the status quo – but the arc of justice is bending quickly and it’s imperative that the Portland City Council lands on the right side of history.

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