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Open Letter to Chief Lovell Regarding Police Response to Protests

News article

Published

July 1st, 2020

Chief Lovell

111 SW 2nd Ave

Portland, Oregon 97204

Chief Lovell,

As public servants, we are expected to hold ourselves as professionals, and even on a bad day, we are expected to bring our best selves. Our nurses, teachers, and firefighters also have bad days, but we expect them to come to work daily treating Portlanders with courtesy and respect, and that expectation should be extended to officers. What I’ve seen of police conduct nightly since protests began a month ago has been increasingly alarming. We have witnessed the bureau’s operations become more outlandish in the past week and a half as the court, city, and state have given limits and boundaries to police conduct. As such, I’m reaching out to ask you, as Police Chief and Police Commissioner, to act in the community’s best interest and safety.

The irony of community members protesting police violence being met with police violence is not lost on me. Community members exercising their freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are not the enemy, and I ask that the bureau and its staff reflect that understanding in its response to events. From videos, witness accounts, journalist accounts, and conversations with community members, a number of issues around police response and conduct have been brought up that I’m requesting you act on. That includes:

  • Immediately drop all charges to members of the media who have been arrested and released from jail.
  •  Immediately discontinue the use of tear gas, LRAD, and close-range rubber bullets. Regardless of your belief of compliance with court-order given exemptions, I’m asking you commit to not using those munitions under any circumstance.
  • Officers must be deployed and enter every situation with the expectation that they are there to de-escalate. If a situation is exacerbated, as the entity with legalized weaponry, it’s the officer’s responsibility to try to improve the situation so it does not result in harm.
  • Immediately make officer identification numbers larger and more legible to ensure public accountability in the event of officer misconduct. A member of the public should be able to read that information without having to ask the officer for it.
  • Immediately change protocol so that only the Mayor or Police Chief can declare an unlawful gathering. In addition to this, I would like the bureau to publicly explain the criteria and procedure it uses to declare peaceful protests as unlawful gatherings – who makes that decision, what is the process for that decision, what criteria is used to get to that decision, what mechanisms are in place to ensure the declaration is accurate and in the public’s interest?
  • Reconsider what is the most appropriate presentation of officers. Nightly, peaceful protestors are met with police officers dressed in full riot gear. I ask what message we are sending to our community and to our officers themselves when this is the norm?
  • Emphasize expectations of professional conduct and respect towards community members.
  • In addition to these immediate asks, I’m also requesting that within 30 days the bureau identify less harmful procedures for crowd control. The indiscriminate use of crowd control tactics such as tear gas, LRAD, and rubber bullets create harm to all those in the vicinity of its use. Not only do I believe it unconscionable to use those methods on a single individual, but the fact that these tactics subject many more people to its deleterious effects proves the bureau needs to examine other non-lethal procedures that do not harm Portlanders.

Not being the commissioner- in-charge I cannot mandate you to do any of these things. Of course, I expect you will work with our labor relations team to weigh all these requests to provide safe working conditions for your staff. But I cannot stress enough the trust eroded between the community and police, and the continued dangers current police response and conduct pose to Portlanders.

I hope you heed the community’s call for change, and I look forward to working with both of you on an updated use of force policy that will make clear police intervention should never result in a Portlander harmed, regardless of circumstance.

Signed,

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty

Cc: Mayor Ted Wheeler