Salem Police Department Says It Had No Role in Portland Police Training Presentation

“The image and the meme do not reflect the values of the Salem Police Department or our expectation of conduct displayed by officers.”

The Salem Police Department announced Friday that it had no involvement in the development or presentation of what it described as “an offensive image and meme related to protests,” referring to the PowerPoint presentation Portland officials released last week that contained a meme glorifying police violence against protesters, among other controversial imagery and messaging.

As WW reported on Tuesday, a Portland police lieutenant who was commander of PPB’s now-dissolved Rapid Response Team—which responded to crowd control events, including the summer 2020 protests—testified during a deposition in a federal court case that the presentation was likely given at a statewide crowd control training that is taught jointly by instructors from PPB, the Salem Police Department, Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

Salem police spokesman Lt. Treven Upkes said in a statement Friday morning that SPD “provides instructors and instruction material for portions of this multiday training.” However, the statement says, the agency had no role in the creation or presentation of the PowerPoint.

“It is important for our community to know that no Salem police staff was involved in the development or presentation of the offensive graphic,” the statement said. “No Salem police staff provided instruction for the presentation module in question.”

It remains unclear who created or approved the PowerPoint presentation; the number of police officers who have viewed it for training purposes; the number of times the PowerPoint was presented, and over what time period; or which agencies may have provided instruction based on the presentation, or viewed it as part of their training.

Spokespersons for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police have not responded to WW’s request for comment.

SPD’s statement provides further context to the crowd control training, which it described as a multiday event that is “commonly hosted by several agencies and attended by officers from across the state of Oregon.” The statement also noted that, while the agency provides instructors and material for “portions” of the training, its instructors “present their own materials and do not routinely co-present or co-produce with other agencies.”

“More importantly, the image and the meme do not reflect the values of the Salem Police Department,” SPD said Friday. “We take seriously our responsibility to protect the community while respecting individuals’ right to free speech and assembly, and our commitment to strengthening the public’s trust and confidence continues to be our focus and priority.”

In releasing the PowerPoint presentation last week, the city said it believes the presentation was created around 2018. If that is correct, it suggests that some of the RRT officers who policed Portland protests in 2020 may have viewed it as part of their training. (PPB has estimated that its officers used force against protesters over 6,000 times in 2020.)

Oregon State Police and deputies from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office assisted PPB on many occasions during racial justice protests in Portland following the murder of George Floyd. It remains unclear if any officers from those agencies participated in the creation of, or received training based on, the PowerPoint presentation.

The city says it learned about the existence of the PowerPoint in September, as it compiled discovery documents in a federal court case filed by the Black-led organization Don’t Shoot Portland.

The group sued the city in June 2020, alleging excessive use of force by PPB officers. The case is still ongoing. Last Friday, Jan. 14, the plaintiff’s attorneys had planned to file a motion that would include slides from the PowerPoint presentation. (Due to clerical issues, Don’t Shoot’s attorneys filed the motion on Jan. 19.)

Hours before their filing deadline, the city released the presentation and Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a statement saying he was “disgusted that this offensive content was added to a training presentation for our police officers.” The mayor added that, as soon as he learned about the presentation slide, he contacted PPB Chief Chuck Lovell, who assured him that an internal affairs investigation into the matter was already underway.

On Tuesday, WW first reported that the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the City Attorney’s Office and Lovell. The DOJ condemned Portland officials for failing to notify the agency of the training materials, as required under the parties’ 2014 settlement agreement, which the city and the DOJ entered into after the feds found a “pattern or practice” of PPB using excessive force against people with mental illness or who were experiencing a mental health crisis.

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty concurred with the DOJ’s letter.

City Attorney Robert Taylor said in a statement Tuesday that the city had planned to hand over the training materials to the DOJ by Jan. 31—the deadline for submitting certain documents pursuant to the agreement.

“The training presentation was evidence in an ongoing internal affairs investigation,” Taylor said, “and before disclosing the information, the city hoped to complete the necessary fact-gathering to provide additional information about the presentation and the slide, including its origin and whether it was presented during training.”

In the letter, DOJ attorneys Jonas Geissler and Jared D. Hager requested that the city provide them the following materials by next Friday, Jan. 28:

1. The original, unredacted electronic records containing all RRT training materials since 2018, including all metadata;

2. An initial report and periodic status reports regarding the internal investigation of this matter, including the circumstances regarding the training being finalized and delivered, and the training information being withheld from the United States; and

3. The city’s plans to ensure that that it timely provides all information required to be disclosed under the agreement.

The City Attorney’s Office said it intends to “fully respond” to the DOJ’s requests.