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Portland Police Chief: Violence Isn’t The Answer

Portland, Ore. — Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell tells the New York Times, “Violence isn’t the answer.”

The opinion piece released Monday in the New York Times, lets the Chief give his thoughts on the past two months of protests, riots and violence in the Rose City.

After the horrendous killing of George Floyd, people in Portland, Ore., joined with thousands across the country in demonstrations to address police reform and widespread systemic racism. The leaders of the Portland Police Bureau denounced this tragic death, and we reiterated our willingness to engage in reforms.

But Portland has now faced weeks of extreme difficulties and drew intense national attention after federal officers were deployed here.

As police officers, our duty is to uphold the rights of anyone to assemble peacefully and engage in free speech. But over the months of protests, a concerning dynamic developed. People protested peacefully, while others engaged in dangerous activities that could have resulted in injury and even death.

The night of May 29 was a pivotal moment for our city. Hundreds of people, in a coordinated effort, attacked the Justice Center, which includes our Central Precinct station and the Multnomah County Detention Center. They broke into the building, destroyed the first-floor interior and lit fires. Afterward, there was looting and destruction downtown.

Yet in the following weeks, thousands of people demonstrated peacefully in an awesome expression of First Amendment rights. The Police Bureau had little to no interaction with members of this group, because they did not allow criminal activity to impede their message.
As a Black man and a public servant, I have a unique perspective. I agree with a local pastor, E.D. Mondainé, who stated these “spectacles” are drowning out the voices that need to be heard to make positive change. This violence is doing nothing to further the Black Lives Matter movement.

On one night, for example, individuals screwed the doors of our North Precinct station shut, barricaded other entrances and lit the station on fire with people inside. Nearby businesses, owned by people of color, were damaged and looted. On other nights, there were multiple attempts to breach the Justice Center. Other law enforcement facilities were targeted, including the union building, which was broken into and had fires set within.

Violence and destruction have also been directed at the federal courthouse, which sits next to the Justice Center. The president sent additional federal agents to Portland, and our city became national news.

Gov. Kate Brown recently negotiated an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to remove federal agents in stages and have them replaced by Oregon State Police. The governor acknowledged that this might not be the end of the violence. I hope she is wrong.

Portland is a beautiful and vibrant city with smart, progressive people, and I am hopeful we can come together to move beyond the unrest and refocus on critical issues.

The Portland Police Bureau remains committed to protecting life and responding to events as appropriate. I am proud of our efforts in extreme circumstances few in the country have faced.

During these events, our agency has responded to assaults, stabbings, shootings, people with guns and the stockpiling of explosives. Shooting off commercial-grade fireworks and mortars is not peaceful protest. We are fortunate that no one has been killed.

There are those who say the Portland police have not done enough to quell violence. I ask them to come speak with our officers, who have been responding for two months to protests. They have served with professionalism, courage and resiliency through an extraordinary time. Many have been injured and some have received threats of violence to themselves or their families. They would prefer to return to regular patrol and investigative duties and see peace in our community.

The voices of victims are not heard as well. Because of the protests, officers have not been able to respond to 911 calls or have been delayed for hours. Investigators’ cases lie on their desks as they work nights to process arrests. We have seen an alarming increase in shootings and homicides. We need to redirect our focus to preventing and solving these crimes that are taking a hugely disproportionate number of minority lives.

I have said frequently that the Portland Police Bureau is committed to reform. We are a progressive agency and have demonstrated our willingness to change over the past eight years. Working with the Department of Justice, we have made significant changes to our policies and training. The Portland Police Bureau’s policy on the use of deadly force is more restrictive than state and federal law.

We recently enhanced our Community Engagement Unit to help build trust and legitimacy with the communities we serve. We have also developed several advisory councils that help the Police Bureau make decisions with the benefit of a diverse set of inputs.

The Portland Police Bureau has had an equity and inclusion office for over five years. I recently changed the organizational structure to have it report directly to me, to ensure we are prioritizing its work.

I have confidence in our community and the people who have dedicated their lives to building relationships with police. They have stood up and said no more violence. I stand with them with a servant’s heart, committed to being leaders in police reform.

Chuck Lovell is the chief of the Portland Police Bureau.

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