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November 16th, 2011 COREY PEIN, NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Chaos to Checkmate

Mayor Adams and Occupy Portland played a game in city parks. Police Chief Reese won.

“DAY BY DAY”: Mayor Sam Adams acknowledges he had no plan at first to deal with Occupy Portland.
IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

As the Occupation devolved, Mike Reese had something else on his mind: a potential campaign for mayor in 2012. He had discussed the idea with allies long before Occupy Portland surfaced.

Reese’s talks, however, leaked just as the drumbeat of negative news about the Occupiers was intensifying. On Nov. 1, WW reported that Reese was considering a mayoral run.

Reese at the time declined to talk about his political plans, saying only that he would decide “in a couple of weeks” whether to run. He now says he remained laser-focused on Occupy Portland.

“I don’t weigh the political consequences of any situation when I’m doing my job,” he says.

Speculation in the media about his personal ambitions faded, however, as his bureau took control of the Occupy Portland narrative.

That transition had started two weeks earlier, when Adams first winged off to Asia. The day after Adams left town, the Police Bureau released statistics showing crime had spiked around the Occupy camp. The information that police released provided no context about whether crime shifted from elsewhere in the city. 

The press release started a steady flow of bad-news announcements from the bureau about the camp, including the growing cost of police overtime and the litany of crimes, large and small, committed in and around Lownsdale and Chapman squares. 

“There was no larger strategy behind those communications—just transparency and efficiency,” Adams spokeswoman Ruiz wrote in an email to WW. “At a certain point, [the police press relations] team was deluged with media requests for those details [about crime], and a daily roundup became the most efficient way to communicate it.”

After the revelation of Reese’s personal political ambitions Nov. 1, police officials continued to portray the Occupy camp as a growing threat to officers’ safety.

“The bad behavior was escalating and eventually reached a critical mass,” Reese says.

On Nov. 2, police spokesman Sgt. Peter Simpson sent every Portland Police Bureau employee a nerve-wracking document: a six-day-old unclassified “officer safety” memo from the Arizona Counterterrorism Information Center. The memo said that a letter titled “When Should You Shoot a Cop?” had been found at an Occupy Phoenix event.

Nobody claimed such literature had surfaced at Occupy Portland, or been found on anyone in Lownsdale or Chapman squares. 

Some Occupiers, however, fueled such concerns. During a Nov. 2 evening march, a man police identified as David Anthony Burgess allegedly shoved a police sergeant into the path of a TriMet bus. 

Emails regarding the Nov. 2 march show tension between the mayor’s office and Reese’s team about how to characterize the city’s relationship with the Occupiers.

Police spokesman Simpson told KPTV: “We are concerned with the tone at [last night’s] march…. It’s not about the original Occupy movement anymore.” Simpson added that he “did not know if the mayor’s office had any input on yesterday’s protest.” 

Adams spokeswoman Ruiz emailed Simpson that the remark seemed to imply Adams was at best not paying attention. Simpson in an email stood by the accuracy of the quote. Ruiz went on to request a clarification from KPTV, which updated its story by removing Simpson’s quote about Adams’ office and inserting a statement supplied by Ruiz.

Adams says although he did not attend the march, he was in touch electronically throughout the evening. Reese says he and Adams never disagreed on the approach to the protesters.

“The mayor and I were on the same page throughout,” he says.

The day after the officer was shoved in front of a bus, Reese ordered all sworn officers carry crowd-control gear and quickly released the memo to the news media. Adams, reacting to the injured officer, put distance between himself and the protesters for the first time. “Violence like this will not be tolerated,” he said in a Nov. 3 news release.

Other commissioners exerted pressure on the Occupiers. Commissioner Nick Fish told the Parks Bureau to turn off water to the parks’ restrooms and cease trash removal. The Bureau of Development Services, run by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, cited code violations in the Occupiers’ camp.

Then, on Nov. 8, someone tossed a Molotov cocktail at the World Trade Center downtown. Police quickly linked the thrower to the Occupy camp. That was too much.

“Time’s up, Occupy Portland,” The Oregonian said in an editorial the next day. The paper criticized Adams, who “has styled himself as a sympathizer and B.F.F. of the Occupy Portland protest, which is not just regrettable. It’s wrong.”

A day later, Adams—flanked by Reese and Fish—issued the deadline to clear the camp by midnight Saturday.

Ruiz, Adams spokeswoman, says city officials expected the final face-off could have dragged into Monday or Tuesday evening.

In the end, Reese’s troops moved in much earlier, making the would-be candidate the hero of the day for many Portlanders whose sympathy for the Occupiers had waned.

“It could have gone the other way,” Reese says. “It might have required tear gas and been really negative. But that’s my job and I didn’t consider the political consequences.”

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