Portland city council has directed the Portland Police Bureau to start regularly reporting the contents of its crowd control weapon stockpile in a push for more transparency from the often opaque bureau.
The rule, passed unanimously Wednesday afternoon, was introduced by Commissioners Chloe Eudaly, Jo Ann Hardesty and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner. It was a notable joint effort between the mayor and two commissioners, both of whom have been highly critical of the bureau’s conduct during months of racial justice protests and have rarely seemed to be in lockstep with the mayor on policing issues.
But the three council members found common ground on Wednesday’s resolution, which aims to give the city council a better sense of what’s in the stockpile — and more of a say on what goes into it.
The new rule will require the bureau to turn over an inventory of its arsenal of crowd control weapons four times a year and get authorization from council members before purchasing military-grade weapons. The resolution includes a list of what qualifies as “military-style equipment,” which includes shields, flash-bangs, and riot batons.
Commissioners Hardesty and Eudaly said they had originally set out for a more comprehensive ban on munitions, but the push got snagged in the settlement agreement with the Department of Justice, which put restraints on the council’s ability to change its use of force policies.
“I regret that I was not able to do more in my time in office to curb PPB’s excesses,” said Eudaly, who lost her seat in the November election to incoming Commissioner Mingus Mapps. “There are both regulatory and political reasons for why we can not do more right now, but the very least we can do is create more transparent and open information for members of the public.”
In her remarks, Hardesty called the resolution “the best that we can do today” and said she wanted to explore future changes to use of force policy including banning certain munitions and creating easier ways to identify officers in protests.
By January 27, the bureau will need to provide the council with an inventory listing the quantity, purpose, ingredients, manufacturer and the expiration date of the crowd control weapons in its stockpile. From then on, these inventories would need to be turned over to elected officials on a quarterly basis.
The police are also required to get any procurements of military-grade equipment authorized through a quarterly report to council. That report would need to include rationale for the purchase and trainings available to officers to ensure “appropriate use.” Weapons used by SERT, the city’s version of a SWAT team, would need to be authorized only by the police commissioner. And if the police bureau was looking to buy military-grade weaponry outside of the quarterly schedule, the bureau would also need to get permission solely from the police commissioner.
The resolution was spurred by months of racial justice protests that saw demonstrators routinely met with tear gas, flash-bangs, and rubber bullets fired by the Portland Police in attempts to disperse crowds. The public has yet to see a comprehensive list of what was used and in what quantities, according to the resolution.
“To date, Portlanders have not been provided with an accounting of the scope and scale of PPB’s use of chemical, impact, and other munitions, nor an inventory of the quantity of such weapons currently in PPB’s inventory,” it reads.
Responsibility for ensuring these requirements are met will rest with the police chief or a designee from the chief’s office.
The resolution is expected to give council members relatively fast information into what police are using during prolonged periods of protests. If officers deploy munitions on three or more days in the course of a week — a pattern that would likely hold during sustained protests — the bureau would be required to keep an inventory of munitions used on each day of the demonstration. The council would also have a rapid way to know if the bureau had dipped significantly into its supply: the bureau would need to let the council know within a week of the use if they planned to buy more.
During public testimony, Dan Handelman of police watchdog group Portland Copwatch expressed skepticism that the settlement agreement with the Department of Justice really stood in opposition to a full ban on munitions and urged the council to go further.
“We also think there should be more focus on removing [munitions] from the inventory rather than taking inventory and allowing more purchases of these things,” said Handelman. “It should say we don’t want our community members being hurt by them.”