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Chief Outlaw: Protesting in Portland - Talking Beat

The Portland Police Bureau and the City of Portland have been in the news lately regarding large scale events. Chief Daniel Outlaw provides some perspective on how these events affect the City of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau.

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Announcer:
Welcome to Talking Beat, the podcast for the Portland Police Bureau. We're focusing on thoughtful conversations that we hope will inform and provide you with a small glimpse of the work performed by Portland police officers as well as issues affecting public safety in our city. Here's what's on today's show.

Chief Outlaw:
There is a pride in being a part of the Portland culture and the Portland environment, and that needs to be shown not just from the police officers but from everyone. It has to be a collective pride that's seen and felt not only to 'let the folks outside of our city know that we don't tolerate this and we won't have it', but to also 'let those who plan on doing these things' that we don't condone this. It's not welcome.

Host:
On this episode, we are talking about protests, demonstrations, rallies and marches. The Portland Police Bureau and the city of Portland have been in the news lately regarding large scale events. Chief Daniel Outlaw is here today to provide some perspective on how these events affect the city of Portland and the Portland Police Bureau. Welcome Chief.

Chief Outlaw:
Thanks.

Host:
Let's start with the current situation. Give us a better understanding of what is going on in Portland and how it's different than in the past.

Chief Outlaw:
We're seeing an increase in planned and unplanned demonstrations or events that typically take place downtown. With the weather nice, it's not surprising. But I think just given the amount of attention that our protests and demonstrations have gotten over the last couple of years, nationally and internationally, we're acting more like a magnet to these events as opposed to a deterrent.

Chief Outlaw:
We're seeing a shift in the type of events that we're seeing. It would be really easy to say that when I first got here almost a couple of years ago, that people came with the intent to team and demonstrate against something or to protest against something or be an advocate for. But now we're seeing an increase of planned brawls, planned fights, where you have opposing sides coming together, meeting in the city of Portland in specific areas for the sole purpose of fighting over ideological differences.

Chief Outlaw:
We know, given the laws that we have here, that folks are bringing weapons, whether openly or concealed, and they're doing this legally, which just adds an added layer of concerned and a different element to the tone of these events. And then of course you have social media which allows for instant awareness of what's going on, but it's not always showing all sides. It's generally from one perspective or the other and it's very easy to sway opinion in that way.

Host:
What do you say to people who think that police protect one side or one ideological group over another.

Chief Outlaw:
We've facilitated being available for a couple of hundred demonstrations and events, planned and unplanned, within the last year and most of them, no one had even made a peep about, didn't even hear about. I say time and time again, we focus on behaviors and that side as police, we are to be neutral. We plan. There's a lot of planning that goes into these events, if we even have the luxury of knowing about these events.

Chief Outlaw:
Of course we don't want injuries. We want people to be able to come out and exercise their rights to free speech without injury. All of that to say we're not here to choose sides. After August 4th of last year, I received a lot of criticism. I was called a race traitor and I was yelled at and asked, “What are little black girls going to think about what you did today?” And it was because we used force against those who said they were counter demonstrating against another group.

Chief Outlaw:
I told them, we focus on behaviors. Granted, there were some tactical things that we learned out of that whole day. But we spent the whole day keeping opposing sides separated. And it's the same thing that we did with this most recent incident. What happened was, we can't be everywhere all the time. And unfortunately there were some injuries that came out of that.

Chief Outlaw:
But again, we focus on behaviors. It's not about choosing sides. We don't get to pick sides in law enforcement. It's just unfortunate now that we are being thrust in the middle of a political arena. It's a very slippery slope and I think it's really dangerous when you begin to politicize your local law enforcement that's supposed to be neutral.

Host:
Chief, what do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions that people have about what is occurring here?

Chief Outlaw:
There are a lot of misconceptions that are floating around about our city, but then also about the Portland Police Bureau. That we just sit back and let illegal things happen. There's lawlessness. That we don't enforce law and order. I've even seen intimations that we don't know what we're doing, all of which couldn't be furthest from the truth.

Chief Outlaw:
Our officers do an amazing job. They're very well trained. We've had the luxury, whether you look at it as a good thing or a bad thing. But we've been fortunate enough to have to deal with so many of these events that we've had the opportunity to learn from things that we've done in the past that didn't necessarily work. In fact, we've been asked to travel not just all over the country, but even some internationally, to speak or present on what we've learned here. We're just a living case study.

Chief Outlaw:
I think the other part is that people don't recognize that you can't compare apples to apples. I've been asked, “Well, why isn't that you can't handle these events like New York does or how Boston or Chicago would do.” The obvious answer is, we don't have the thousands of officers that those agencies do. We can't push a button and then have 1200 designated officers solely to deal with a crowd management situation.

Chief Outlaw:
That's one piece. And I've mentioned before that the legislation here is far different than in other places. That inhibits our ability to either one, be strategic about how we go about these in a manner in which I'd like to be, but also allow us to get ahead of these events before they even occur. People have heard me mention the suggestion of an anti-mask ordinance or even something allowing us to record as these events are unfolding and occurring. Other places are able to do that and we aren't.

Chief Outlaw:
The other portion I think that's missed upon folks is that Portland is the biggest fish in the pond as far as we're the largest police agency or police department in the state. But we're a big fish in a small pond. When you look at Charlottesville, for example, when their local police department needed a mutual aid from the state troopers, the state troopers brought hundreds of police officers in a short period of time along with equipment and resources.

Chief Outlaw:
Our state police here, I know you know the superintendent, he's an amazing guy. If he could offer hundreds of resources in as far as personnel goes, he would do it, but he doesn't have it. Then I'm also asked, “Well, how was your experience where you came from? With your previous department.”

Chief Outlaw:
The difference there is that you're right next to San Francisco and Hayward and Berkeley and neighboring agencies that are within 15 minutes or less and they can provide a lot of resources in a short period of time. We don't have that advantage here. We really rely upon our ability to work with the partners that do have the resources, but we're all so scattered and spread out throughout the state. It becomes a bit of a challenge. So, it's not comparing apples to apples.

Chief Outlaw:
And then again, the reality is, as we've seen, the political environment here is different. And that's important for us because when I ask for things like an anti-mask ordinance or a change in legislation that would allow for us to record during these events, it's not as easy as flipping a switch and making that happen. There are laws in place that prohibit us from doing these things and there's a lot of history behind that.

Host:
Chief, the two biggest questions we get are, why can't you make more arrests? And why can't you just even stop this from happening before it starts? Why can't you keep all of these groups from coming downtown when their sole intent appears to be the brawl?

Chief Outlaw:
I think those are fair questions. I think I'd even add a question to that of, well, why don't you just use the tools that you have? Why are you asking for more tools? Of course we want to make more arrests. With technology, and the increase in the use of technology, you're getting real time information now that we weren't able to get years ago. The problem with that is, there's pros and cons, right?

Chief Outlaw:
We're able to be far more transparent. We're able to keep people informed. But the flip side of that is, sometimes you only see a snippet of what's going on depending on the perspective of whomever is capturing that recording. Sometimes they'll show you what they want you to see and sometimes they're able to grab it when they can grab it. So it might not be the entire incident or event from start to finish.

Chief Outlaw:
The question often stems from, well, that person look like they were assaulted. Yeah, it looks the same way to me. But without additional context or information it's very difficult to answer right off the bat why an arrest wasn't made at that time. We get some time to look into it and we'll find that, in a lot of these cases, an arrest wasn't made because we weren't there.

Chief Outlaw:
But the person who had the video, they did have the advantage of being there at that time and then somehow that footage works its way to us and we're working backwards trying to put what happened together. And it's extremely difficult, especially in these protest situations to get people to come forward and provide a statement under penalty of perjury and saying that they'll testify in court.

Chief Outlaw:
And then we talked about the masks, right? It's very difficult to identify folks. And they know this. That's why they do it. Oftentimes it's because we're not in a safe position tactically to do that. The way we train, and honestly it depends on who the officer is, but most times you're not going to get an officer that on views a brawl that's going to run into a crowd of people that are engaged in a fight until they have enough officers with them to get in and out safely or to effect an arrest safely.

Chief Outlaw:
So there are a lot of factors that go into when we can or when we should make an arrest. And I think just overall, this is a question we get a lot just answering day-to-day calls. This person did this to me. The other person says they didn't do it, and we have to conduct an investigation. Just because we don't make a physical arrest today doesn't mean that we're not going to come back at some point later on to make an arrest.

Chief Outlaw:
So there are a lot of things that go into our considerations. But again, resources are huge. We are concerned about flashpoints. I don't want to throw that out there too much, but it's a very real thing. Obviously yes, we are trained to take on more risk and to put ourselves in danger. But we are also trained to be smart about it and I expect my incident commander to utilize their resources in a smart way as well.

Chief Outlaw:
We're not going to lead our resources, our personnel, our staff, our people, our officers who are also human beings, which I think people forget, into an unsafe situation when we know that tactically there's a better way to go about in doing that. That's why, specifically after the most recent event, we did everything we could in a very timely manner to push out photos or video or anything that we had to get people to come forward and hopefully helping us identify those who were involved in that.

Host:
So the second part, we don't have a big gate that we can shut to close off the city.

Chief Outlaw:
That would be illegal. No. But there's no way to physically stop people from traveling here. Of course, I would love to say, I'll say it now, if you know that a big fight is being planned on such and such day and time, don't show up. But that's not within anyone's right to be able to say that people have a right to come and go as they please. And I talked a little bit earlier about the police being a neutral entity. That's part of that. We don't get to say who can and who cannot traverse in and out of the city.

Chief Outlaw:
I mentioned earlier, when people ask, it actually was maybe last November or so. Mayor Wheeler and I pushed really hard for a protest ordinance that would allow us to legally on the front end keep opposing groups separated when we know that there was a history of violence so we didn't have to spend as much time and resources physically keeping these groups separated.

Chief Outlaw:
If we could get ahead of the situation and control the environment upfront, I believe that the likelihood of just us using force, even having to make arrests would decrease. The ordinance didn't pass and a lot of the questions, which were the same, that came out of that was, well, why don't you use the tools that you have? A tool belt is called a tool belt for a reason. It's not designed for one specific tool.

Chief Outlaw:
We know that there is no one size fits all approach to police response to these sorts of events. It depends on the tone. It depends on numbers. It depends on police resources. It depends on what's being discussed. It really depends on what you have, the climate, and in a lot of the stuff you won't even know until you get there. And you have to be willing to go with the flow. And the more resources that we have available or contingencies that we have available to us, the better. The lesser amount of officers that we have as far as resources go.

Chief Outlaw:
When we have a group that's already made it very clear that they're not going to listen to anything that we say. If we've already asked you very nicely or asked you at all to leave. And by the way, when you do leave, can you go this way and you have X amount of time to do it. If they've already made it very clear that they're not going to comply or honor our request, then only way we have to move people out of there is by force. The less amount of resources that we have to do that, the increase likelihood of us using force.

Chief Outlaw:
Nobody wants to use force. Officers don't want to use force. We don't want injuries on either side. Why would we not work together to try to avoid that? The more numbers that you have, and we talk about New York and Chicago and larger cities, DC, the likelihood of you using force is lessened because you have more people, more visibility and more of an ability to get in between and keep folks separated. Again, it's not about having one tool or two tools. We want to have as many tools as possible so we can be as prepared as we possibly can for any scenario that presents itself to us.

Host:
Of the tools you have, Chief, what do you think you're going to expand on or what are you focusing on for the future?

Chief Outlaw:
The biggest thing, and I think this is going to happen, there has to be a shift of ownership. And I've said this before. This is not a Wheeler Outlaw thing. It's very easy to say, “Oh, this is a police matter.” It's not a police matter. Of course we are part of the solution, but this public safety is a city wide, I'd even argue a statewide, matter of concern and there has to be ownership by everyone.

Chief Outlaw:
The reason why that's important is because I think we all share the common level of being insulted or offended by the reputation that our city is beginning to have as far as what we allow and what we tolerate. This is a beautiful city. It's still a beautiful city, but there's still a pride here. I see it from people that are from here, people that have moved here and lived here forever since then.

Chief Outlaw:
And even the new people, they came here for a reason. There's a pride in being a part of the Portland culture and the Portland environment and that needs to be shown not just from the police officers that work constantly, again, through holidays and days off, and do their absolute best each and every time they come and work one of these events, but from everyone.

Chief Outlaw:
It has to be a collective pride that's seen and felt not only to 'let the folks outside of our city know that we don't tolerate this and we won't have it', but to also 'let those who plan on doing these things' that we don't condone this. It's not welcome. And it's not just violence from any one side. It's criminal violence anywhere that takes place that we don't condone. I think that's a huge shift that needs to take place and I believe that it will.

Chief Outlaw:
But we work really closely also with our partners, other local law enforcement, non law enforcement to sit down at the table and say, “Okay. One, how does this impact each of us?” But what can we each bring to the table to make sure that one, it's not just about messaging, right? Because I think it's annoying for anybody to hear something and it doesn't appear that we follow through with it. But to show unity not only in what we believe in in messaging, but to show unity and how we can work together and collaborate to keep our city safe.

Host:
Chief, we've received a lot of messages, phone calls, emails, and tweets, everything directed at us. How do you think this all affects the Portland Police Bureau and the members?

Chief Outlaw:
We've been unjustly thrust in the middle of a political arena and whether folks make these comments in general or they name someone specifically, these have impacts on everyone. There have been people that have received threats against their safety. But again, we canceled days off, right? We don't have the luxury of having a reserve cadre of people that are just sitting around waiting for this to happen.

Chief Outlaw:
We pull folks together. We provide them additional training on top of their regular jobs and then we say, “Oh, you thought you were going to be off on this day. We need you to come in and we need you to handle this.” It takes a toll. It takes a toll, not on individual morale, but it takes a toll... it could wear down the organization if you let it.

Chief Outlaw:
And I don't want to come off as a naysayer or an er or whatever because I don't want that to happen to the fine folks that work here. I want them to be reassured that I am affirming them in their abilities, their competence. They are some of the best officers that I've had the pleasure of working with. And around the training, like I said, that we receive is top-notch and high quality. And I don't say that out of arrogance. I say it because we've had the advantage of learning from previous incidences and we know what works and what doesn't work.

Chief Outlaw:
Highly qualified, highly educated, and again, because we have the advantage of constant repetition in doing these things, we know what we're doing. So, there's expertise that's been gained across the board in this organization and I don't want for one minute anyone to think that because we're being thrust into this political show that I or the public have lost confidence in their ability to do what we do.

Chief Outlaw:
I believe that the Portland Police Bureau shares the values of our community here. That we believe in public safety. I believe that our community does as well. I want to reassure our community again that we have their best interests at heart and that we are doing what we can to make sure that our city is safe for all of us.

Chief Outlaw:
I would ask for their continued support. We've also gotten a lot of support. We've talked about the negative comments that we were seeing. But the flip side of that is that this has generated a lot of conversation. I mentioned that a lot of these players are the same people, if not more, from August 4th. When I made comments about what took place there, it was almost as if people didn't really believe me that it occurred.

Chief Outlaw:
Now, because of technology and video, people are listening and I would love for this new level of awareness to translate into action. And it has, but I want the momentum to keep going. There's a lot of genuine concern for the wellbeing of the safety of our city and the preservation of it, and I don't want it to get lost once the headlines fade away. I want us to continue to work together in partnership and collaboration. It's very inspiring and I'm optimistic about it, and we can continue to utilize this energy in other areas as well.

Host:
Thank you Chief.

Chief Outlaw:
You're welcome.

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to The Talking Beat. Do you have a question for us? You can call and leave a message on our dedicated voicemail line at (971) 339-8868 or send us an email to talkingbeat@portlandoregon.gov. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. More episodes can be found at our website, portlandoregon.gov/police/podcast.