PORTLAND, Ore. — A team of 50 police officers who serve on a specialized crowd-control unit in Oregon and respond to Portland’s ongoing, often violent protests have resigned en masse after a team member was indicted on criminal charges.
During a Wednesday night meeting, officers, detectives and sergeants on the Rapid Response Team voted to resign from the team because of a perceived lack of support from City Hall and from the district attorney over the past year, according to the mayor’s office and officers.
The move by officers to disband their own team came a day after Officer Cody Budworth was indicted and accused of fourth-degree assault stemming from a baton strike against a protester last summer.
“I don’t think it is just an indictment that caused this to happen, I think it is a very long complicated history of things that have gone on over the last 14 months,” Acting Portland Police Chief Chris Davis said.
Davis told reporters Thursday that while the officers on the unit have “left their voluntary positions and no longer comprise a team,” they will continue with their regular assignments.
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The Rapid Response Team is an “all-hazard incident” unit that responds to natural or man-made disasters, large-scale searches and, most recently, public order policing or riots. Members of the team are trained in advanced skills related to crowd management, crowd psychology and behavior, team formations and movements, the use of enhanced personal protective equipment, use of force, and de-escalation and arrests.
Last summer, when Portland became the epicenter of Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, the team was on the front lines.
Many demonstrations devolved into clashes with officers late at night, and at times ended with vandalism, property damage and fires. The crowd-control team was the unit often directed to disperse groups after police declared unlawful assemblies or riots.
“Our entire organization has been put through something none of us have ever seen through our careers — and at a level and intensity that I don’t think any other city in the United States has experienced,” Davis said.
In late October, the president of the police union, the Portland Police Association, sent the mayor and police chief a letter, urging both to “stand up and publicly support Police Bureau members who voluntarily serve on the Rapid Response Team.”
“Our RRT members do not volunteer to have Molotov cocktails, fireworks, explosives, rocks, bottles, urine, feces and other dangerous objects thrown at them,” wrote Daryl Turner, then-president of the union. He noted that the team members volunteer for the work without any specialty pay.
On Thursday, Davis acknowledged that members of the team have been exposed and subjected to “unbelievable things” in the past 14 months, including ongoing protests, increased violence and the pandemic.
“I understand that those are very complex issues, but I also understand their perspective,” Davis said about the team’s decision. “If you put a human being through what they went through, that takes a toll.”
While protests have significantly decreased in the city, there are still small protests by self-described anarchists in contained areas of Portland.
Davis said in the event there’s a declared riot in the coming days, there will still be a police response from other officers within the bureau “with as close to adequate resources as we can get.”
Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has led efforts to defund the police and proposed disbanding the team last fall, said that the “resignations are yet another example of a rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland.”
“Earlier this week, for the first time in Portland’s history, an officer from PPB’s Rapid Response Team was charged with a misdemeanor for assaulting a photojournalist during a protest last summer,” Hardesty said. “Ironically, we now see some PPB officers engaging in the act they showed so much disdain for last summer by staging their own protest.”
From May 29 through Nov. 15 last year, during the height of the social justice protests in Portland, the city’s police used force more than 6,000 times, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report.
Budworth marked the first Rapid Response Team officer to face criminal prosecution stemming from force used during a protest. The police union has called the prosecution politically driven, and said Budworth’s baton “push” to a woman’s head was accidental.
Also this week, authorities said a Portland Police Bureau detective is under review by the Oregon Department of Justice for possible criminal charges related to use of force at last year’s racial justice protests.
“I have confidence that the (Portland Police) Bureau will continue their mission to maintain public safety,” Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said Thursday. “In the meantime, my office will continue to focus on the fair and just prosecution of criminal matters.”