All of the officers, sergeants and detectives with the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team — the unit responsible for policing protests in the city — resigned from the team together Wednesday night.
Police bureau officials called the move unprecedented.
The resignations from the unit came after news this week that one member of the team, Officer Corey Budworth, would face criminal charges for excessive force used during a racial justice protest last year, and that a second Rapid Response Team member, Det. Erik Kammerer, is being investigated by the Oregon Department of Justice on similar allegations.
Three sources who work for the city of Portland confirmed the resignations to OPB on Thursday morning, ahead of an official statement from the police bureau. The officers remain employed with the Portland Police Bureau, but will no longer work as part of the Rapid Response Team. Assignments to the team are on a voluntary basis within the police bureau.
The resignations were first reported by KXL.
Speaking to OPB on Wednesday, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said his office was still reviewing other use of force cases by officers related to protests, leaving the door open for further criminal prosecutions against RRT members.
In a statement Thursday, the police bureau confirmed the approximately 50 officer team would no longer work together.
“This does not mean there will be no response in public order situations,” Acting Chief Chris Davis said in a press conference. “We’ll use the resources we have.”
Davis, who is filling in for Police Chief Chuck Lovell while he is away at a training, said the police bureau is in discussions with neighboring law enforcement agencies, though some of those same agencies have expressed hesitancy in the past to assist Portland’s efforts to police protests. Still, Davis said through staffing adjustments and coordination with other law enforcement, he was confident the bureau could manage any event where the Rapid Response Team would typically deploy.
“What you’re likely to see is similar response, just using a little different approach with on-duty resources as opposed to the specialized folks coming in and taking on that mission,” Davis said.
The Rapid Response Team deployed frequently over the past 14 months, regularly staffing protests, which has come at a cost to the city both financially and in officer morale. According to city budget figures, Portland police racked up nearly $7 million in overtime in June and July of 2020 alone.
Davis said members of the unit expressed several grievances to management about the past year, including objections to Budworth’s prosecution.
“They brought up that among a lot of other things,” Davis said. “I think that, really, this is the culmination of a very long process and it’s not just an indictment that caused this to happen.”
The Portland Police Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, has lobbed criticisms at Schmidt’s office this week over Budworth’s prosecution, calling it a political move and saying that Budworth was “caught in the crossfire of agenda-driven city leaders and a politicized criminal justice system.”
The prosecution brought against Budworth was done with assistance from the Portland Police Bureau and came as a result of a grand jury process.
Budworth is accused of hitting activist photographer Teri Jacobs from behind with a baton. Several videos of the incident posted to social media show Jacobs with her hands over her head moving away as officers clear a street near the Multnomah Building on Southeast Hawthorne Avenue. An officer in the video, identified as Budworth, hits Jacobs once in the head from behind, and then hits her head again in the face after she falls to the ground.
In February, the city of Portland settled a lawsuit for $50,000 with Jacobs, who was wearing press credentials at the time of the alleged assault.
Jacobs’ case was just one of the accusations of excessive force the Rapid Response Team faced during 2020, where the bureau recorded around 6,000 incidents of force. That’s led to several lawsuits against the city, as well as criticism from U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors, who say Portland officers have veered far from the required use of force policies under a federal settlement agreement.
In a statement late Thursday, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty sharply rebuked the officers for resigning during a moment of accountability and reiterated her support for the district attorney.
”What today’s action says is that some Portland police officers believe they are above the law,” she wrote. “I support District Attorney Mike Schmidt in his efforts to hold police officers accountable when they commit crimes themselves because no one is above the law.”
Hardesty has been a consistent critic of the police team and had called for the unit to be disbanded last fall. But, she said, she wanted to see the unit dissolved through council action — not in protest by the police themselves.
”I remain deeply concerned these RRT resignations are yet another example of a rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland,” Hardesty said.
On Thursday, Schmidt said he had “confidence” the bureau would still be able to manage public safety without the Rapid Response Team.
“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,” Schmidt wrote.
Davis said the bureau would continue to work with Schmidt’s office to get past “friction points” that he said naturally arise during difficult times.
“I don’t expect that we will see what some other cities have seen where that relationship deteriorates and people aren’t talking to each other,” he said. “I don’t see that happening here.”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is the city’s police commissioner and is facing a recall effort in part because of complaints the police bureau used a heavy hand in responding to 2020 protests, said he was ordering the Portland Police Bureau to prepare “mobile field forces to respond to any public safety needs, including potential violence-related mass gatherings.”
Wheeler said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had also made officers from the Oregon State Police available if needed. The mayor also said he acknowledged “the toll this past year has taken on (Rapid Response Team members) and their families.”