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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Says He's Keeping Police Bureau

<p>Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.</p>
<p>Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.</p>

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has rejected Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s call to give her control of the city’s police bureau.

Over the weekend, Hardesty called on the mayor to give up the bureau, saying Wheeler was denying violence committed by local police and did not appear to have control of the force.

The mayor was silent on the issue for two days. But on Monday afternoon, in a press release mainly focused on actions mayors across the county were taking to block federal officers from entering their cities, Wheeler included this:

“I will continue to serve as Police Commissioner through this time of transformation,” he wrote.

Under Portland’s unique commission form of government, city council members are responsible for the day-to-day oversight of city bureaus. The mayor hands out those assignments and Portland mayors have historically — though not always — kept the police for themselves. 

Commissioner Hardesty’s office has not yet responded to the mayor’s announcement. The office of Commissioner Chloe Eudaly declined to comment on the decision. Commissioner Amanda Fritz stood behind him. 

“Per the Charter, the Mayor is in charge of Bureau assignments. I support his decisions in that regard,” she wrote. “He is joining with Mayors across the country calling for an end to federal interference in response to demonstrations. He is uniquely qualified to continue coordinating and leading our City at this critical time.” 

The mayor has criticized the behavior of federal law enforcement in Portland and demanded they leave, but he’s also repeatedly said he has no authority to control the action of federal officers, who have jurisdiction across the United States. On Monday, he said he had asked the City Attorney to “explore other legal options to address federal actions.“

Wheeler also joined mayors from Kansas City, Washington D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, and Seattle Monday in a letter addressed to leaders in Congress, objecting to federal officers entering their cities.

“Their threats and actions have escalated events, and increased the risk of violence against both civil and local law enforcement officers,” the letter read. “We urge you to immediately investigate the president's and his administration’s actions.” 

The letter honed in on the deployment of federal forces to Portland, which the mayors said occurred over the objections of local and state officials and had escalated tensions. 

“None of these agents are trained in modern urban community policing, such as de-escalation.” the letter read. “They are operating without coordination with local law enforcement, and their actions have escalated events.”

The letter also stated that federal officers appear not to be complying with a federal court order regarding the use of tear gas and other crowd control tools. The mayor’s office said that portion of the letter refers to the order by U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez, which restricted the use of tear gas for local police as part of a lawsuit filed by Don't Shoot PDX. 

But, Jesse Merrithew, an attorney representing Don't Shoot PDX, said the federal officers are not defendants in that lawsuit — and it would only be applicable to them if they were working in concert with the Portland Police. 

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell has said, while the two agencies do work in close proximity to one another, they each “have their objectives” and get their directions from different leaders. 

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting