Mar 22, 2024 - News

Portland police's new Public Order Team

A Portland police officer ties a police line in the street in Portland, Oregon.

A new Public Order Team for protests and large gatherings will debut later this year as part of the Portland Police Bureau. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Portland police plan to create a new protest response team in anticipation of potential unrest related to the 2024 election.

Why it matters: The Portland Police Bureau is revamping its Rapid Response Team, which was disbanded in 2021, amid concerns about First Amendment rights and the police's use of force against protesters.

Driving the news: The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize a letter of agreement with the police union to create the Public Order Team and pay the officers a 6% premium when they suit up.

  • The program will cost about $380,000 a year.
  • The new team will support "both community voice and community safety, particularly during this election year," Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also heads the Police Bureau, told the council.

Behind the scenes: Wheeler asked the Portland Police Association about creating the team in time for the election, police union president Sgt. Aaron Schmautz told The Oregonian.

  • "You look at what happened in 2020 — police officers have no desire to be standing on the other side of a fence from the community," Schmautz said.

Catch up quick: The previous Rapid Response Team shut down in June 2021 after a member was charged with criminal assault and the team resigned in protest.

Context: Deputy chief Mike Frome told the council that currently Portland police officers receive two days of training for crowd management but the Public Order Team will receive additional training including in communications, crowd psychology and other standards outlined by the National Tactical Officers Association.

By the numbers: Forty officers, eight sergeants and "a couple" of lieutenants will make up the new force.

  • Frome stressed their pay should be appropriate to the risk of being on the front lines just as tactical team, bomb squad and motorcycle cops are paid 6% hazard pay.

What they're saying: Frome acknowledged Wednesday that Portlanders are wary of officers in tactical gear on the streets.

  • "I know the thought of a new Public Order Team can be frightening and disconcerting to some people ... but we're going to be very open about their training," he said.

Friction point: Six members of the public testified before the council, all skeptical of the new force. Some of them said that police officers are more violent than protesters.

  • One person pointed out that the city of Portland has paid almost $3 million so far to settle injury claims related to the police's response to protests in 2020.
  • City Commissioner Rene Gonzalez compared that to Denver ($14 million), Seattle ($10 million) and Austin ($14 million).
  • "Portland police performed quite well in impossible situations," Gonzalez said.

Reality check: "It sounds like the same thing in a new packaging," Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch told Axios.

  • However, he said it was a "big surprise" the officers would be introduced to the community, as he did not expect much transparency.

What's next: Beginning in June, select officers will receive 96 hours of training.

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