Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to explain why officers did not intervene in a violent rally that took place over the weekend.
The Saturday demonstration saw far-right protesters fighting with Black Lives Matter counter-protesters in downtown over the course of hours with no police intervention. At one point, a far-right demonstrator named Alan Swinney appeared to brandish a gun and point it at the crowd.
Lovell said Portland police were short staffed from the ongoing nightly protests, which diminished their ability to quickly intervene when fights broke out.
“We’ve been deploying resources at night approaching 90 days, so we have our staffing kind of set for our night activities,” Lovell said. “With Saturday afternoon’s event, we were unsure the number of [protesters] that would be there.”
Asked whether the concerns of city officials, including Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, came into the decision of how to address Saturday’s rally, Lovell reiterated that staffing the nightly protest took precedence.
“People can only work so many hours in a 24-hour period,” Lovell said. “Our intention was to have a defensive posture.”
Lovell offered no remarks on definitive changes to how opposing political rallies would be handled in the future.
The police chief noted that even in a case like Swinney’s, where a firearm is pointed at a crowd, police may have trouble moving quickly into a crowd to make an arrest before the incident is over.
“We can’t be everywhere and intervene in every situation,” Lovell said.
A similar rally is planned for this weekend in downtown Portland. Lovell said the Portland Police Bureau was still assessing that situation.
This reporter asks about this Saturday’s planned conservative rally and whether police will approach this one differently pic.twitter.com/VTbAfPD7A8— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) August 25, 2020
“We’ll seek to maybe have some more resources. I don’t think we know exactly where any event this Saturday is going to take place. So I really think it’s just spending some time on the front end and getting information, trying to figure out what the best approach is.”
Despite calls from President Trump to deploy the National Guard in Oregon, Lovell said he thinks PPB and its partner agencies are capable of managing ongoing nightly protests.