Portland police officials said they have canceled vacation time for officers and plan to have a significant presence at Saturday rally between dueling groups.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Portland Police Bureau Deputy Chief Chris Davis said though the agency is stretched thin because of nightly protests and a recent wave of retirements, there will be many officers ready to keep groups apart.
“We have canceled regular days off and we anticipate having a fairly large number of our officers here,” Davis said.
One of the rallies is an event in Delta Park being hosted by the Proud Boys, a far-right group that regularly engages in violence at political protests. The other event, a counterprotest, is being held in nearby Peninsula Park.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said that while the police response to the competing events is “going to depend on how fluid the situation is,” the goal will be for a large contingent of officers to keep groups separate.
“Our whole traffic division will be working to deal with traffic violations. We’ll get some help with Lake Oswego for that,” Davis said.
The issue of assistance for Portland police is notable ahead of the rally.
At a similar Proud Boys event in 2019, Portland police were able to keep opposing demonstrators fully separated with assistance from 14 other agencies. On Saturday, PPB will have the help of just five agencies, including the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Port of Portland, and police officers from Lake Oswego and Milwaukie. Davis said those agencies had agreed to help, “but not necessarily for crowd management.”
Oregon State Police withdrew from helping Portland police with crowd control management after Mayor Ted Wheeler banned the use of tear gas, otherwise known as CS gas.
“CS gas mitigates the need for officers to utilize deadly physical force in these circumstances,” OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton wrote in an email to Davis. “By removing this tool from officers, this forces us (you) to insert physical bodies in between potentially violent and hostile crowds — increasing the risk of serious physical injury or death of officers and community members.”
Police have not asked for the support of federal agencies for this weekend’s rally, but media questioned Davis on federal involvement after officers assisted Portland with a violent clash Wednesday night.
Federal officers assisted Portland police at a racial justice protest Wednesday night after one demonstrator threw a Molotov cocktail at officers. Davis called it “an emergency need.”
“It got so violent out here that the Federal Protective Service called and asked if we needed their help, and our incident commander decided that we did,” Davis said.
He added that he did not anticipate needing similar assistance Saturday.
Still, police said they are concerned about violence between the opposing groups.
At a similar protest Aug. 22, opposing groups used baseball bats, bear spray and paintball guns to assault each other without police intervention. The following week at a demonstration in Portland to support President Trump’s reelection campaign, a self-proclaimed antifascist protester shot and killed a member of the group Patriot Prayer — another far-right group that regularly travels to liberal cities to engage in street clashes.
Davis said even though people in Oregon are allowed to carry firearms at protests under certain circumstances, people who do so must follow the law.
“Oregon is an open carry state, but it is illegal under Portland city code to carry a loaded gun in a public place unless you have an Oregon concealed handgun permit,” he said.
The deputy chief said police would “inquire where appropriate” whether a person has a handgun permit if they observe them carrying a loaded firearm, but stopped short of committing to intervening in large groups if guns are used in a menacing fashion.
“If you have two groups of people and some number of whom are armed with firearms and they come into conflict with one another, it would be important to resolve that conflict as quickly as possible,” he said.
Davis said even if no one is armed, it is challenging for police to control crowds of hundreds, if not thousands, of people expected Saturday.
“Our preference would be that we don’t bring guns,” Davis said. "That causes us a heightened level of concern.