Sheriff Reese voices concerns about federal officers, looks to future of policing in Portland in 1-on-1 interview

Sheriff Mike Reese
Sheriff Mike Reese(KPTV Image)
Updated: Jul. 21, 2020 at 5:38 PM PDT
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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – In a one-on-one interview with FOX 12, the sheriff of Multnomah County voiced concerns about the conduct of federal officers in Portland, echoing the thoughts of several political leaders in Oregon.

Sheriff Mike Reese has previously served for more than four years as Portland’s police chief. On Tuesday morning, he said he is not surprised to see anger on Portland streets again after more than 50 days of protests.

I’m not surprised,” Reese said to FOX 12′s Pete Ferryman. “I think a lot of people are disappointed in the response by the federal police … certainly, the people that are out protesting against the perceived overreaction by federal authorities to peaceful protesters has a lot of us concerned.”

Ferryman: “Perceived overreaction. The acting DHS secretary says their mission is simple–to protect federal property. It’s their responsibility, they say. Is it that simple?”

Reese: “Well, they certainly have a responsibility to maintain the safety and security of their facilities, but how they do that matters greatly. And we always want to be measured and professional and proportional in how we respond to protests or any criminal behavior … it’s concerning that you have agents that appear not to have the training in crowd management and the background into how to deescalate involved in managing what is a very complex situation. We have to be fair and consistent, regardless of the message, or who is out there delivering the message. In the recent activities in the last week, I don’t think we’ve seen that from our federal partners.”

Ferryman: “Again, specifically, what have you not seen? What are they doing that’s not in your playbook, so to speak?”

Reese: “Again, I want to be mindful that there is an investigation that’s going on, which I think is the right thing to do, with some of the actions that we’ve seen. Having federal authorities, the U.S. attorney’s office step in and begin an investigation into those actions is absolutely right and it provides a measure of accountability that all of us want to see.”

Ferryman: “The acting DHS secretary says the situation was out of control, and that’s why they had to step in. They didn’t feel that local law enforcement was doing a good enough job to protect federal property. Do you think that’s an accurate assessment?”

Reese: “I would disagree. I think that we were seeing the protest activity start to diminish, certainly around the federal properties and around the justice center. The people that were outside the Justice center at night. The crowds had diminished to maybe 100 people, and many of them were engaged in partying behavior. And we had a few of the anarchists mixed into that, and it was a challenging environment. But certainly it was starting to wane and our Portland Police Bureau and deputy sheriffs were dealing with it appropriately.”

Reese’s final point is still the subject of much debate. Last Friday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Told MSNBC’s Brian Williams that he believed the violent protests would have ended by this past weekend if not for federal officers coming to town. Reese in his interview on Tuesday didn’t go that far, but said the move by federal officers clearly escalated tensions.

Reese also shared his views about the future of policing in Portland and the voices of concerned citizens:

Ferryman: “I’m sure you receive a lot of emails from concerned citizens. I know that I do, and I’ve noticed there is one common denominator ... these people, they want their city back. When does that happen and how?”

Reese: “If I knew the answer to that I’d bottle it and sell it to almost every major city in the United States right now. These are complex and difficult situations to manage, and how we manage them matters to the community. The concern I have, and I share it with a lot of Portlanders, is that our beautiful city has become the center of this national debate.  And, on both extremes you’ve got folks that see Portland as a lightning rod, and a place to weigh in on the politics, and politicizing law enforcement and public safety is never appropriate.”

Ferryman: “In your assessment, are all of the videos that have recently surfaced.  Including the video of George Floyd being killed at the hands of police. Are those proof of systemic racism in American law enforcement?”

Reese: “I think there’s been systemic racism in our criminal justice system forever, for decades and decades. We’ve certainly made mistakes in how we police over the years ... our local public safety professionals, whether it’s our corrections deputies or deputy sheriffs, our Portland police officers are committed to working through that working with the community to build trust, and a criminal justice system here in Multnomah County that we can all be proud of.”

Ferryman:  “Do you think that it’s practical or even ethical to send a highly trained social worker to a domestic violence call, for example.  Does that work in the real world?”

Reese: “It can. Again, I don’t want to prejudge any solutions to how we police or how we manage the well being of our community. Police are one of the ways we provide safety to our community, but we’re not the only tool in that toolbox.”

Ferryman: “Meanwhile, a large portion of downtown of Portland is covered with plywood. We’re seeing businesses failing every day it seems, another iconic business is closing it’s doors for good. How much longer can this go on?”

Reese: “I am deeply concerned about the impact on the City of Portland, on our psyche and on our business community. We are a vibrant and thriving city, we are resilient as Portlanders. But the violence has to end.”