911 Operators Did Not Dispatch Police to Gas Station Where Employee Feared Explosion From Protesters Throwing Fireworks

“[I’m] trying to tell them to at least come here and secure the gas station before this blows up.”

Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications, which fields 911 calls for the city, did not dispatch police when a Chevron gas station employee called to report a potential explosion hazard as dueling protesters threw fireworks near the gas pumps during a street battle.

WW had requested the 911 call audio from BOEC after learning from another Chevron employee who works inside the adjoining ExtraMile convenience store that her co-worker had called police Aug. 22 when a skirmish between anti-fascists and their right-wing adversaries spilled out onto Northeast 122nd Avenue and surrounding businesses.

The call audio, provided Aug. 25 to WW, lasted for just over a minute. The caller identified himself as an employee at the gas station, which is located right next door to the empty 7-acre Kmart parking lot where Proud Boys held a rally Sunday entitled “Summer of Love.” At about 4 pm, anti-fascist counterprotesters confronted the rally attendees in the parking lot, and the encounter devolved into a chaotic exchange of mace, paintball guns and fireworks.

The call begins when the call taker asks for the address of the emergency.

“Hey, I’m on Chevron on 122nd and Sandy, or Skidmore. I’m an employee here,” the caller says. “Yeah, they’re throwing fire—they’re literally going off over here with fireworks and everything. It’s a potential hazard here.”

The BOEC employee responds: “Yeah, our officers are aware and monitoring the protest activity going on there.”

The Chevron employee doesn’t respond immediately, but there is audible yelling in the background. The call taker asks if the caller can still hear her, and he says yes.

“Yeah, so we have police monitoring the situation and we are aware of the protest activity occurring,” the BOEC operator says.

Again, the caller doesn’t respond immediately. Another voice in the background appears to ask the Chevron employee who he is on the phone with, and the employee responds: “The police. Trying to tell them to at least come here and secure the gas station before this blows up.”

The BOEC operator chimes in: “If anything happens, like, if anything does catch a spark on your property, you can call us on 911 and we can send help. Police at this time are not intervening.”

The emergency call taker then says she is going to disconnect the call and proceeds to hang up.

The 911 call demonstrates the degree to which the Portland Police Bureau remained committed to its strategy of not intervening in the anticipated brawl between political adversaries.

During a press conference last week, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said Portlanders should not expect to see police wading into crowds or skirmishes, or attempting to separate dueling groups. Lovell added that police would monitor from a nearby “incident command post” and would only consider intervening if a “life safety” event arose.

WW asked the Police Bureau and BOEC if fireworks being set off near a gas station rose to the level of a “life safety” incident.

Portland police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Allen says police at that time determined the Chevron workers weren’t in immediate danger that warranted a police response.

“PPB Incident Command received the information about the 911 call from that location,” Allen said. “While we recognize how alarming it was to those employees, and how dangerous lighting fireworks near a gas station is, the involved groups were still the ones who had come together for the purposes of a confrontation. We did not have information that the employees themselves were being targeted by violence. And our surveillance showed the groups appeared to be moving and passed by the gas station within a short period of time.”

Dan Douthit, a spokesman for BOEC, says the call taker failed to enter the “pertinent information” from the call into the incident reporting system for protest-related activity that day. (Douthit adds that an investigation into the call is pending.)

“The protest-related activity was captured in a single computer-aided dispatch incident,” Douthit says. “Our expectation would be that all safety-related updates be included in CAD so that information can be relayed to responders. In this particular call, the call taker did not enter this pertinent information into that incident; however, the Portland Police Bureau was surveilling the situation and was aware.”

Police appear to have had some resources available for a response.

Lovell had noted last week that Sunday was an “all hands” day, and that he had canceled days off for all personnel. Allen says over 400 sworn officers had reported for duty on Aug. 22, and that the bureau also had outside support from other law enforcement agencies like the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police.

City Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who oversees BOEC, issued the following statement to WW:

“I am aware of the 911 call from the gas station on 122nd. I am working with BOEC/911 to investigate why this happened and how to prevent it from happening again.”

Update: This post has been updated with Sunday’s up-to-date staffing numbers from the Portland Police Bureau, and a comment from Commissioner Mapps.