Mayor Ted Wheeler Directs Portland Police Bureau to Stop Using Tear Gas at Protests

The decision follows more than 100 nightly protests against police brutality.

A protester implores Portland police officers along North Lombard Street. (Dylan Van Weelden)

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the city's police commissioner, announced Thursday morning that he has directed the Portland Police Bureau to stop using tear gas for crowd control purposes.

The decision follows more than 100 nightly protests against police brutality. Since late May, Wheeler and PPB have been repeatedly criticized for what many deemed to be an excessive use of CS gas at protests.

Portlanders grew increasingly concerned with its use after media reported that it had wafted into the homes of people who lives near protests, and protesters observed that being exposed to CS gas negatively impacted their menstrual cycles.

The Oregon Legislature in June restricted the use of tear gas so it could only be used in situations deemed a "riot." Some protesters observed, however, that the Portland Police Bureau began declaring riots more frequently before deploying CS gas (PPB has denied that this is the case).

Wheeler is up for reelection in November. A poll published Tuesday in The Oregonian showed almost 2 in 3 Portland voters view Wheeler unfavorably, and nearly 75% support the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a statement shared with WW, Oregon State Police spokesman Capt. Timothy Fox called Wheeler's decision to limit the use of tear gas "reckless and shortsighted."

'The OSP will be forced to assess our involvement in assisting the city of Portland, we will not force our troopers into this untenable situation and limit their ability to defend themselves and others," Fox said in a statement. "Oregon State Police utilizes CS gas sparingly and only in situations to defend officers and the public from serious injury. This less lethal option is just that, a tool that mitigates the potential an officer may be forced to use deadly physical force."

Below is Wheeler's full statement regarding the decision to halt the use of tear gas:

It's time for everyone to reduce the violence in our community. We all want change. We all have the opportunity and obligation to create change. We all want to focus on the fundamental issue at hand – justice for Black people and all people of color.

That's why, as Police Commissioner, effective immediately and until further notice, I am directing the Portland Police to end the use of CS gas for crowd control. 

I commend the work that the Oregon State Legislature and Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform have done to date to convene experts to evaluate the use of gas and what safer alternatives may exist that prevent the need for greater force. I commit the City of Portland to full participation in these reforms and encourage the Legislature to take up this issue as soon as possible.

During the last hundred days Portland, Multnomah County and State Police have all relied on CS gas where there is a threat to life safety. We need something different. We need it now.

Arson, vandalism, and violence are not going to drive change in this community. I expect the police to arrest people who engage in criminal acts. I expect the District Attorney to prosecute those who commit criminal acts. And I expect the rest of the criminal justice system to hold those individuals accountable.  We must stand together as a community against violence and for progress.

I call on everyone to step up and tamp down the violence. I'm acting. It's time for others to join me.

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