Police: Rapid Response Team departures result of stress
This week's mass defection from the Portland Police Bureau's Rapid Response Team was the culmination of 14 months of unprecedented stress, not just a reaction to one of its members being criminally charged with a riot-related assault charge, according to acting Police Chief Chris Davis.
All members of the volunteer team that responds to protests voted to submit their resignations from the unit — but not from the Portland Police Bureau — on the evening of Wednesday, June 16. They include approximately 50 officers, a detective and a sergeant.
"I think this is the culmination of a very long process," Davis said during a news availability on the morning of Thursday, June 17. Among other things, Davis said the team members had been making incredible sacrifices that they do not believe are appreciated.
"I think this has very deep roots in some really just ... unbelievable things that (RRT officers) have been subjected to over the last 14 months, particularly in the second half of 2020. I understand their perspective. If you put a human being through what they were put through, that takes a toll," Davis said.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell is out of state for training.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said Thursday afternoon that he has asked for help from state and local governments for potential trouble.
"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 Gov. Brown, and the Oregon State Police is making members of its Mobile Response Team available on standby," Wheeler said in a June 17 afternoon statement.
The decisions to leave the specialty team came one day after Officer Corey Budworth was indicted on one count of fourth-degree assault by a grand jury for allegedly using a baton on a photographer during a declared riot on Aug. 18, 2020. Another team member is under investigation on similar charges by the Oregon Department of Justice, and Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt has said other members are under investigation.
Later in the morning, Schmidt issued a statement that said, "Management and staffing of the Rapid Response Team falls within the purview of the leadership of the Portland Police Bureau. I have confidence that the Bureau will continue their mission to maintain public safety. In the meantime, my office will continue to focus on the fair and just prosecution of criminal matters. We cannot expect the community to trust law enforcement if we hold ourselves to a lower standard."
Last year, Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner warned Police Chief Chuck Lovell and Mayor Ted Wheeler that the team was reaching the breaking point because of stress caused by near-nightly protests. In an Oct. 6, 2020, letter, Turner said the members were specially trained. Then he added, "But our RRT members do not volunteer to have Molotov cocktails, fireworks, explosives, rocks, bottles, urine, feces and other dangerous objects thrown at them. Nor do they volunteer to have threats of rape, murder, and assaults on their families hurled at them. They do not volunteer to suffer serious injuries, to be subjected to warrantless criticism and false allegations by elected officials, or to suffer through baseless complaints and lengthy investigations devoid of due process.
"Our RRT members are exhausted and injured. The only glue holding their team together is their integrity and commitment to serve their city. They deserve better."
In the letter, Turner accused politicians of politicizing decisions that are better made by the team members.
"Allow RRT supervisors, who have the most training, experience, and knowledge about crowd control, to manage these events unencumbered by shifting political winds," Turner wrote.
Davis said the bureau will respond to future protest with available resources. He said commanders are now reviewing precinct and shift staffing levels, and may make some adjustment to keep the community safe. He said the bureau will set up a command center Thursday that likely will continue through the weekend in case of unrest.
Some groups have advertised "direct action" events starting Thursday night. Past "direct action" protests have commonly led to riots in Portland.
Turner's letter can be found here.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.