Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has distanced Portland’s fire department, which she oversees, from the city’s police bureau, controlled by Mayor Ted Wheeler, who she has said is in denial about the violence being perpetuated by local police during protests.
During more than 50 consecutive nights of demonstrations against police brutality and racism, the two public safety bureaus can occasionally overlap in the parking lot of the city’s fire stations. The police bureau’s Rapid Response Team, tasked with responding to large protests, can wait in the parking lots along with their equipment and their vans until they’re called upon.
But Portland police will no longer be able to use any of the city’s 31 fire stations as a staging ground. On Sunday, Fire Chief Sara Boone sent out a memo, saying Hardesty had directed Portland Fire and Rescue to bar all law enforcement from using fire stations as staging areas for “any tactical operations” until further notice.
Boone wrote that the decision was made “to ensure that there is no confusion in regards to our role in providing safety to the residents of the city of Portland.”
According to PFR spokesperson Rich Chatman, the police had used a fire station in Northeast Portland as a staging ground over the weekend as there was concern that demonstrators had plans to set fire to buildings near the police’s North Precinct.
The day before the announcement, Hardesty released a heated critique of the police bureau and the mayor who oversees the force. She said she believed Wheeler was not in command of the city’s police. She also said it was clear the police were collaborating with federal officers, which she called an occupying force.
In the last two weeks, some have questioned how closely the federal law enforcement officers are working with the city to police protests. The city has recently tried to make that line clearer. Over the weekend, Wheeler booted Department of Homeland Security officers from the local police bureau’s incident command center used during protests.
In a Sunday release from the fire bureau announcing its new policy around city police, the bureau emphasized that federal law enforcement “were not, and will not ever” be allowed to use fire stations for their operations.
The police bureau responded within an hour, saying it was aware of the direction and will continue to “proudly serve” with the fire bureau.