PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Time and again Portlanders have seen demonstrations in the downtown area devolve into riots. Many of these have resulted in bloody brawls and made national headlines.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has been accused of tying the hands of police officers when it comes to enforcing the law.
Viral images of violent clashes between left-leaning and right-wing demonstrators have painted a city known for its political activism, as disorderly and even chaotic.
“The game plan we've been using up to this point is no longer effective,” Wheeler said.
Since being elected in May of 2016, Wheeler has been heavily criticized for his approach as police commissioner sometimes simultaneously for under policing and over policing.
After a June 29 protest, that ended in the attack of conservative writer Andy Ngo, Portland Police Association President, Daryl Turner released a public statement.
Turner wrote, in part, the mayor needs to "remove the handcuffs from our officers and let them stop the violence through strong and swift enforcement action."
“It definitely lit the powder keg,” Wheeler told FOX 12. “Every one of my team members was threatened by violence.”
Even national figures weighed in on the controversy. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz called for a federal investigation into the mayor’s alleged actions accusing him of allowing citizens to be attacked by “domestic terrorists.”
“I thought it was beneath a United States senator,” Wheeler said. “The truth is, I wasn't even here. I wasn't even in the United States. I was with my family in Ecuador on a wildlife tour.”
Wheeler added that there are misconceptions about his role in PPB’s tactical decision-making process during demonstrations.
“One of the things I would like the public to know, is there is a unified incident command center that's engaged during these demonstrations. There is an incident commander, certainly the police chief," he said.
According to Wheeler, information comes in from the field and is relayed to those in command, including Police Chief Danielle Outlaw. He said the incident commander's tactics are then reviewed by internal legal counsel before action is taken.
“I have never made a tactical decision and I most certainly did not on June 29th," he said.
However, Wheeler claims he does give PPB officials directives outlining protocol related to policing protests, which he said, are the same each protest.
“Enforce the law, don't let people commit acts of violence, don't let people shut down regional transit,” are among these directives. Wheeler adds, he always stresses that PPB, “keep the city active and moving. Don't let people get onto the highways and do anything stupid.”
FOX 12 attempted to interview Chief Danielle Outlaw to verify these claims, but a PPB spokesperson said she was not available. However, after the June 29 protest, PPB Assistant Chief Chris Davis, echoed Wheeler’s claim.
“I can tell you the direction I got from the mayor's office for this event, which was enforce the law to the extent it is physically possible, prevent violence from happening in our city, prevent property damage and allow people to exercise their first amendment rights,” Davis said.
But, some say, too few arrests have been made and there have been even fewer convictions. For instance, only one person is facing a felony charge in the June 29th protest, though three were arrested and several people were recorded committing acts of violence.
When asked whether he would consider that a success in enforcement of the law, Wheeler said the police have tried to identify some of the people who were involved in those brawls but many were wearing masks.
Outlaw recently proposed an ordinance banning masks at protests. Wheeler said he is considering bringing the ordinance before the Portland City Council.
“It is legal in 3 states. it has withstood challenges in federal courts of appeal," he said.
Wheeler also told FOX 12 he wants other bureaus, in addition to PPB, to help keep opposing groups separated during future demonstrations.
“In other cities, for example, the transportation bureau and the fire bureaus, they don't necessarily provide people, but they provide resources and barriers,” he explained.
His hope is to implement at least some of these changes by Aug. 17. On that day, a few prominent groups with a history of clashing on our streets are planning to return to Portland for another demonstration, according to the mayor.
“We've got to quit being naive and assume this is just some local law enforcement issue,” Wheeler said. “The reality is, Portland is on the national stage.”
The mayor, who confirmed he intends to run for re-election in 2020, said he is not throwing in the towel.
You can see more of Wheeler's exclusive interview with FOX 12's Marja Martinez at this link.
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