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Portland police say a law passed by the Oregon Legislature prevents them from responding to downtown riots.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Damaged cause by the most recent downtown Portland riot.After a group smashed windows and left graffiti on dozens of buildings in downtown Portland on Tuesday, Oct. 12, causing an estimated $500,000 in repairs, a Portland police lieutenant told Pearl District residents a new state law stops officers from intervening in these instances.

Portland Police Lt. Jake Jensen told {obj:57680: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 declare 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 {obj:57681: 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."

KOIN 6 News also contacted Mayor Ted Wheeler, who under the city's commission system is also the police commissioner; Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell; the state attorney general's office and the city attorney's office for a statement regarding the law but did not hear back before deadline; however, if they return a statement, we will update this story.

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.

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