Jul 17, 2020
Portland Mayor Wheeler Press Conference About Federal Law Enforcement Transcript July 17
Portland Mayor Wheeler held a press conference with PPB Chief Lovell on July 17 to address the federal law enforcement presence in Portland. Read the full transcript here.
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Tim Becker: (00:00)
… tensions that have been occurring nightly here in Portland. I will then open it up for limited questions afterwards. We don’t have very much time. Our time is limited, so I’d like to begin immediately by introducing Mayor Ted Wheeler, to share some remarks. Mayor Wheeler.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (00:17)
Thank you, Tim. I appreciate it. We’re at a critical moment in the city of Portland. The videos, the pictures, the experiences that we’re all witnessing here in Portland should be shocking to all Americans. The words and actions from President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have shown that this is an attack on our democracy. I stand with our senators, representatives and our state, county and city leaders in denouncing their presence.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (00:50)
Over the past week, President Trump has used our city as a staging ground to further his political agenda, igniting his base to cause further divisiveness. And in doing so, endangering Portlanders. President Trump has gone so far as bowing that federal law enforcement will “dominate” protestors and mobilize federal agencies to operate in cities. This is an explicit abuse of power and places federal officers and Oregonians in danger.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (01:25)
Mr. President, federal agencies should never be used as your own personal army. Let’s be clear, this is not political theater. This is far more dangerous than that. We have federal officers on our streets, further escalating tensions and causing harm to Portlanders right now. This is not the America we want. This is not the Portland we want. Where is the accountability for what federal officers are doing? What orders are they operating under and what arrests are they making and why?
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (02:03)
As a city, we’re not able to hold them to account. And that’s highly problematic. We have been able to hold our own city and our jurisdictions to account by me, as the mayor, the city council and by our courts, Portland Police Bureau officers are operating under clear directives regarding the use of force and have orders to always deescalate first. We will be thoroughly investigating any perceived violations of those directives. And if officers are found to have violated them, they will be held accountable.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (02:40)
Last week, we were seeing the deescalation of the violence. We were seeing things calm down, but the intervention of federal officers, reignited tensions, PPB, didn’t always get it right, but they have been determined to get it right, abide by our directives, and they’ve been working hard to deescalate and ultimately end the nightly violence. We need our federal government to be held accountable. We need our president to be held accountable. He cannot continue to quell free speech. He cannot alter the foundation of American democracy. He cannot use his federal agencies as his own personal army.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (03:26)
Mr. President, we see right through you. We see what you’re doing. So do us a favor, keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city. Thank you.
Tim Becker: (03:42)
All right. Thank you, Mayor Wheeler for your remarks. We will now bring in and toss it over to Portland Police Bureau Chief, Chuck Lovell, to share some of his thoughts. Chief Lovell. You have to unmute. Can you unmute? There you go. Thank you.
Chief Chuck Lovell: (04:02)
Here we go. Thanks, Tim. The Portland Police Bureau is committed to restoring peace in this community. Recently, federal officers have performed law enforcement functions during crowd events downtown. The Portland police and federal officers have buildings near each other. At times, federal officers may take action in proximity to Portland officers. We may take action near them. The federal officers have their objectives and the Portland police has our objectives. We don’t direct federal officer’s actions and they do not direct ours. Our objective is to protect life, protect property, prevent crime, and establish order.
Chief Chuck Lovell: (04:44)
We will keep working with community partners to build trust. The Portland Police Bureau has been a leader in community policing and we know and hear from so many community members who are tired of the daily criminal activity. They want what we all want, a city where we can live and work together in peace. The Portland Police Bureau deeply respects the cause for justice, reform, transparency and accountability in policing. And we’ve been working for years in this community to establish all of those things and we’ll continue to do so. Thank you.
Tim Becker: (05:15)
Thank you, Chief Lovell for those remarks. We’re now going to open it up for questions to the reporters. Again, we only have a limited amount of time, time for a couple, a few questions, so please keep them short in order to have time for others to ask questions as well. Reports also, I want to ask that you please use the raised hand icon if you have a question and would like to be heard. And we will begin off the top with Nick Budnick, you can go ahead and unmute yourself. I think he should be enabled Nick, to ask a question. And let us know who you are asking the question of.
Nick Budnick: (05:49)
Thanks very much. Question for Mayor Wheeler. Mayor Wheeler, question about the period of six or seven weeks before the federal government became involved. And that is a lot of people have talked about how the Police Bureau has been using the same tactics with some variation night after night, but the criticism I’ve heard is that there hasn’t been the level of outreach, or effort to dialogue with the community. And discuss potential changes and try to communicate with some of the folks that are concerned about police issues. Can you talk about that? It seems like people think that you should have done more.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (06:40)
Nick, since this began, I’ve been discussing not only the tactics, but I’ve been holding meetings regularly with people who’ve been leading demonstrations and I’ve heard their concerns. I’ve understood their concerns. And just a couple of weeks ago, the city council enacted historic reforms around our policing. It included everything from looking at our use of force. We limited certain crowd control tactics. I did through executive order. We defunded certain units that have a disproportionate impact on people of color. We elevated the equity function in the Police Bureau directly into the chief’s office. We’ve committed to further reforms around police accountability and oversight. I’ve pledged to codify the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing, so that it goes on in perpetuity to provide community engagement and oversight. And we’ve reduced the funding ultimately that goes to the Police Bureau and put it instead in direct community investments that reduce the need for police intervention.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (07:49)
And that’s just the beginning. So we have met and heard what the demonstrators are asking for. We’ve implemented a number of the reforms that the community has asked for and we’ve committed to actions going forward. And then when it comes to the tactics of the Portland Police Bureau, over seven weeks, have mistakes been made? Absolutely. But in the city of Portland, we have a process for accountability, for investigation, for followup, it’s transparent. If changes are needed in terms of our tactics, or our directives in the Portland Police Bureau, we have a process to make those changes.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (08:27)
But when we have the federal government, when we have Donald Trump sending troops into our streets who are not accountable to me, or to the city council, or to the public at large, we don’t know what they are doing or why they are doing it. And that’s why I support, or I join the calls of our congressional leaders, our congressional representatives in investigating federal law officers and their use of tactics.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (08:58)
And we’re asking the president, in fact, we’re demanding, that the president remove these additional troops that he’s sent to our city. It is not helping to contain or deescalate the situation, it’s obviously having exactly the opposite impact. It is escalating and already tense situation. And so we’re asking the president, in fact, we’re demanding of the president, “Keep your troops in your federal buildings, or send them home.”
Tim Becker: (09:26)
Thank you, Nick for that question. We got to keep it moving along here. Next will be a Maggie Vespa from KGW. Maggie, are you able to unmute and ask a question? Maggie?
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (09:46)
Maggie, you’re still muted there.
Maggie Vespa: (09:48)
Hi, can you guys hear me now?
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (09:49)
Tim Becker: (09:49)
Maggie Vespa: (09:50)
Oh, awesome. Thank you very much. Mr. Mayor, you said that you are not able to hold federal troops to account and that’s highly problematic. And we’ve had viewers asking what, if anything, now the city can do, now that this already volatile situation has turned even more volatile and more violent. Would you say that you are powerless in this situation now, as far as the troops and their presence are concerned and any violence that comes from that and what is that like? And I’d love the chief of police has speak to this too, if possible, just seeing that element of the situation being taken out of the city’s hands, entirely.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (10:27)
We’re not powerless at all. And what I’m finding is there is strength in numbers? I’m not the only mayor that President Trump and DHS is coming after. You’ll see that this is part of the national strategy. The mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, they have made similar threats to her. They’ve also said that local leadership can’t handle the situation and that they need to send in federal troops in order to solve the problems. And this is happening to mayors all over the United States. This is part of a coordinated strategy out of Trump’s White House, to use federal troops, to bolster his sagging polling data. And it is an absolute abuse of federal law enforcement officials.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (11:15)
And the impact it’s having on our streets is as we were starting to see things deescalate, their actions, particularly last Saturday, but every night since, has actually ratcheted up the tension on our streets. And it’s caused more people, not fewer people to come downtown to demonstrate. So, as I ask, along with my fellow mayors around the United States, and as I join with my congressional delegation and other state and local leaders, and collectively we say to the Trump administration, “Take your troops out of Portland and then let us as local law enforcement officials, with our local allies and other law enforcement agencies and our state law enforcement agencies.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (12:03)
We can handle better than they can what’s going on in our streets, because we practice active containment strategies, we follow up with investigative strategies, and we always try to deescalate tense situations so they don’t blow up on us. And clearly what we’ve seen for the last several nights is the federal troops do not follow those policies. And the impact they’ve had over the last several days is to make things much, much worse. So I wouldn’t say we’re powerless. I would say we are now collectively working with people all around the country, people are all around this state. And we are pushing back against what we think is a very ill conceived and poorly executed strategy on the part of the federal government.
Tim Becker: (12:49)
Maggie, did you want Chief Lovell to address the same question briefly?
Maggie Vespa: (12:53)
Sure, if we have time. That’d be wonderful.
Tim Becker: (12:55)
Real quickly. Yeah. Go ahead, chief.
Chief Chuck Lovell: (12:57)
The mayor covered it well. We’ve been at this for seven weeks straight when we go out and we execute our mission of protecting life and property every night, within the guidelines we have. We investigate our uses of force and we work very hard to ensure the safety of our officers and community members. And that’s our mission. And that’s my main concern every night when we go out and, and take on our public safety mission.
Tim Becker: (13:28)
All right. Thank you, Chief Lovell. Next reporter, Rebecca Ellis from OPB. Do you have a question and who is it for?
Rebecca Ellis: (13:39)
I do. Can you hear me all right?
Tim Becker: (13:41)
Yes. We can hear you.
Rebecca Ellis: (13:42)
Okay. I think this would be for either, or both Mayor Wheeler and Chief Lovell. I’m curious if either of you can speak to whether anyone from the Portland Police Bureau met with Acting Secretary Wolf when he was in town, or any representatives? And if it did, what took place during those conversations?
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (14:00)
I would like to start with that. My opponent in my campaign for mayor has been sending out tweets and other communications suggesting that I did meet with the acting secretary when he was in town this week. I want to be crystal clear, I did not meet with him, nor was I invited to meet with him, nor would I have.
Tim Becker: (14:27)
Chief Chuck Lovell: (14:28)
Rebecca Ellis: (14:34)
Sorry, what was that?
Tim Becker: (14:39)
Can you hear me?
Rebecca Ellis: (14:40)
I can hear you. Yeah. Yeah. I did not meet with Secretary Wolf, either. I do not believe anyone from the Police Bureau did. But I can’t say that for 100%, but I do not believe we did.
Maggie Vespa: (14:53)
Wait, it’s possible someone from the Portland Police Bureau met with acting secretary Wolf, but you’re not certain?
Chief Chuck Lovell: (14:59)
Maggie Vespa: (14:59)
Tim Becker: (15:06)
Okay. It sounds like you don’t have a followup question. Alex Zielinski from the Portland Mercury, are you there and unmute your mic?
Alex Zielinski: (15:15)
Tim Becker: (15:16)
We hear you.
Alex Zielinski: (15:16)
Okay. Great. Yeah. I actually had the same question as Rebecca. I just want to double down and confirm that Chief Lovell, as the Chief of Police, you are not sure if any of the police officers in your jurisdiction met with the DHS secretary yesterday? And can you explain why you might not know this and how we can find out?
Chief Chuck Lovell: (15:40)
Well, we have people that fill different roles with different associations and things of that nature that may have received an invite. But to my knowledge, no one from the Portland Police Bureau met with him.
Tim Becker: (15:56)
Okay. We got two more questions. Kellee Azar from KATU News, Kellee, are you there and can you unmute?
Kellee Azar: (16:04)
Yes, I’m here. My question is for the mayor. The federal government says that they wouldn’t have come into the city, if city leaders had gotten a handle on the riots. What’s your plan to get a handle on the violence. And you say that we can handle it better than the feds can, but we haven’t heard or seen a plan to stop vandalism, or the riots even prior to the federal government, or federal officers getting into town.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (16:28)
Yes. And this has been an ongoing issue, but I want to also reiterate what I said earlier, which is over the last several days, prior to the federal government, getting here, we’d seen the Portland Police Bureau engage in deescalation tactics. Specifically, they took the fence down, that had obviously become a flash point. We still saw some people engaging directly with the police who were then around the Justice Center, which currently holds about 300 individuals who were incarcerated and staff members from Multnomah County.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (17:03)
When that escalation started up again, our police presence actually moved inside the building. And so that really didn’t give anybody any opportunity for a back and forth between demonstrators and law enforcement, or the other way. And what we saw was the numbers were dwindling, the energy in the crowd was decreasing and people were moving elsewhere to do other things. Then the feds came in on the heels of some really inflammatory public messaging coming out of Washington D.C., from the president directly, as well as the Department of Homeland Security. And they blew the whole thing back up again.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (17:43)
So in one day, we saw the numbers escalate. We saw new people coming to from out of state. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that we’ve got people from Texas. We’ve got people from Arizona. We have a lot of people coming from Washington State, and this whole situation is now blowing up as a result of the tactics being used by the federal government. And so when I say, I believe we can handle it better, I mean we can handle it better. We have containment strategies. We know the values of this community. We have the deescalation tactics that are a core part of the training for all of our law enforcement agencies in this area. They don’t go wading into the crowd of hundreds to try to make arrests, unless they’re darn certain they have the right person and they can do it safely. Instead, they follow up with the investigative unit.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (18:34)
All of these are best practice deescalation strategies. We use them, we adhere to them. The federal government seems to not follow those strategies. And it’s had a very negative impact on our streets. [crosstalk 00:18:50] Kellee, I think we would have seen the end of this nightly engagement by now. In fact, a week ago, we were saying, given the withering energy, the declining numbers we were seeing, the lack of targets that were available. We actually believe that we would be in the clear by this weekend. And clearly what’s happened over the course of this week with the federal officers stepping up, both their rhetoric, as well as the violence of their actions. It’s set us way back.
Kellee Azar: (19:21)
But I guess what I’m asking is how do we get the streets of Portland back to Portlanders? This is a small group in comparison to city population. How do we get it back where we don’t have fences up, where people can feel safe once again, being downtown.
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (19:34)
We get rid of the feds. Number two, we contain and deescalate the situation. Number three, we clean up downtown, and number four, we open up for business. That’s the plan.
Tim Becker: (19:48)
There you go.
Kellee Azar: (19:48)
Thank you, mayor.
Tim Becker: (19:49)
Yes, we got one more and then it’s time to go. Simon Gutierrez is from KPTV. Simon, are you there?
Speaker 9: (20:04)
Hey Tim, I believe Simon doesn’t have audio. Are you able to pull up chat and read his question?
Tim Becker: (20:09)
I will, in a moment. In the meantime, we have Therese Bottomly from the Oregonian, is asking to be heard. Therese are you there? Looks like you’re there, unmute, and there you go.
Therese Bottomly: (20:23)
Yes, hi, apparently some others are having trouble with voice, so I’m asking this for Everton Bailey. His voice chat function is also not working. Can Chief Lovell and Mayor Wheeler explain what possible recourse the city can take if the situation with federal officers remains relatively unchanged in a week or so, and they continue to engage with protestors beyond the federal buildings?
Mayor Ted Wheeler: (20:52)
I’ll take that. First of all, we’ll continue to partner with our congressional delegation to, number one demand they leave. Number two, demand an investigation of the tactics that they’re using and demand full transparency in terms of what the findings of those investigations are.
Tim Becker: (21:12)
Okay. Thank you. Simon, this’ll be the last one. I’ll read Simon’s question from KPTV. Question for Chief Lovell, has there been continued cooperation with federal agencies? Are representatives from agencies still included in PPB command center.
Chief Chuck Lovell: (21:31)
We do communicate with federal officers for the purpose of situational awareness and deconfliction. We’re operating in a very, very close proximity to one another, sometimes within an area of a city block. So it’s important for us to know if they’re going to take some type of action and it’s important for them to know if we’re going to take some type of action. So we do have a line of communication, but we do not control their actions, they do not control ours. We don’t direct their uses of force, or anything like that.
Tim Becker: (22:03)
Okay. Thank you for that response, Chief Lovell. That will wrap it up for this press conference. I want to thank Mayor Wheeler and Chief Lovell for joining us today and all the reporters who’ve listened in. This will be, or has been live streamed on YouTube. And if you want to go back and revisit, you can find the entire press conference on the YouTube site that is linked to the press advisory that I first sent out. Thank you everybody for joining.