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MYTHS VS. FACTS: Cooperation and Receding Riot Activity in Portland, OREGON

Release Date: 
August 4, 2020

On July 29, Oregon Governor Kate Brown finally agreed to do what the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has demanded for months: step up and work with federal authorities to stop the nightly criminal violence directed at the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in Portland. Such cooperation between federal and state/local law enforcement is routinely done in every city in the United States. As a result of the governor’s long-delayed, though welcomed, change in direction, the area of the Hatfield Federal Courthouse has finally seen a stark downward trend in violence perpetrated towards federal facilities and federal law enforcement officers. While some violence has continued in the city, Sunday, August 2nd marked the first evening in nearly two months with zero reported attacks against federal officers or property thanks to the coordination between federal, state, and local law enforcement.

While DHS has clearly articulated the terms of the current arrangement, misconceptions and falsehoods persist. Whether spread by negligence or willful disregard for facts on the ground, such misinformation does a disservice to the truth, public safety, and the American people as a whole.

Myth: State and local police are replacing federal officers as DHS forces are standing down and withdrawing.

  • FACTS: There has been no reduction in federal presence; federal law enforcement officers remain in Portland at augmented levels. Reports and implications to the contrary are irresponsible and dishonest. DHS officers are working with a robust contingent of Oregon State Police (OSP) officers to secure the courthouse. OSP has been policing the property outside the fencing surrounding federal properties and has partnered with federal officers behind the fencing.
  • As Acting Secretary Wolf said upon announcing the partnership in operations, the increased federal presence in Portland will remain until the Department is certain that federal property is safe and a change in posture will not hinder DHS’s Congressionally mandated duty to protect it. While the violence in Portland is much improved, the situation remains dynamic and volatile, with acts of violence still ongoing, and no determination of timetables for reduction of protective forces has yet been made. Evaluations remain ongoing.

Myth: The violence is decreasing because federal officers’ presence is now less visible.

  • FACTS: The increased presence of federal officers was a direct response to the longstanding violence already occurring in Portland. FPS experienced nightly violence against federal officers and property going back to late May. Mayor Ted Wheeler tweeted on July 3 that the “nightly violence” had been “going on for more than a month” and needed to “end.” Additionally, Portland Police Bureau had declared multiple riots before federal presence increased and was reported as being the first American city to formally declare a riot during this year’s nationwide violent unrest. Simply put, just because the media and others were not paying as much attention to Portland’s violence prior to the DHS surge doesn’t mean the violence wasn’t occurring.
  • Nor has Portland’s longstanding violence problem been limited to riot activity, unfortunately. Portland Police Bureau has also reported its highest number of homicide investigations in over 30 years. The tragic news follows Mayor Wheeler’s decision to disband the bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team among widespread calls to defund police departments across the country.

Myth: Portland’s downward trend in violence is a result of OSP being more effective than DHS.

  • FACTS: Portland’s current downward trend in riot activity is a direct result of long-awaited coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that DHS demanded to see on the ground for weeks. Every major American city regularly coordinates with DHS law enforcement to maintain law and order—particularly around federal properties entrusted to DHS for protection. For nearly two months, DHS demanded cooperation with state and local law enforcement in Portland. It wasn’t until DHS officers suffered more than 240 injuries that Oregon’s Governor finally agreed to do her job.
  • For those several long weeks as state and local officials put politics ahead of public safety, rioters knew that they could attack federal property and the officers defending it and then flee from the federal area of operations without any consequences from state or local law enforcement. Now that state and local leaders have finally agreed to step up and do their job, would-be rioters face the kind of coordinated enforcement response they should have been in place all along.
Last Published Date: August 5, 2020
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