After a year of screaming “A-C-A-B” and demanding police reformation, Portland seems to be moving in a progressive direction. However, as cliche as it is, the saying goes that everything may not be what it seems.
In what bureau officials call an “unprecedented decision,” according to OPB, all 50 members of Portland’s Rapid Response Team have resigned from their positions on the team. The Rapid Response Team is primarily responsible for “maintain[ing] public safety,” according to Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt; in the past year, the RRT has pursued that mission by policing protests such as the ones that occurred last summer. The members will remain in the bureau, but will no longer be on the team.
All of the members including sergeants, detectives and officers reached the collective decision on June 16, with an official announcement the following day. The decision was reached after news broke that one of the team members, Officer Corey Budworth, would be criminally charged for assaulting a photographer during the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020.
According to The Oregonian, the group cited “a lack of clear direction from the chief’s office, changing interpretations of police force directives and policies, officer safety concerns and what they called inconsistent internal reviews of officers’ actions” as their reasons for resignation. In a memo written to Police Chief Chuck Lowell obtained by The Oregonian, the commander of the Rapid Response Team, Lt. Jacob Clark, claimed the problems were so severe, “they cannot continue to serve on the team under the extreme liability they are currently facing.”
“The team recognizes leadership is complicated and multi-faceted,” the memo reads. “However, they believe there has been little clear guidance offered to the team. The lack of clear guidance has led to the team to lose confidence in their decision making, and fearful of later repercussions which they are currently experiencing in the form of delayed internal investigations.”
As city officials continue to crack down on police misconduct, officers are feeling increased pressure to relieve themselves from any future allegations. These resignations are not about police reform, so much as they are about redirecting the blame for the atrocities officers committed last summer.
In an interview with OPB, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt stated that his office has been looking into cases on the use of force since last year. As the District Attorney’s office continues to investigate police misconduct, the pressures from within the Portland Police Bureau must be increasing. Since the Rapid Response Team was at the forefront of public review last summer, the cases that Schmidt’s office has reviewed have only grown.
“We have looked at multiple cases already and I think there are still several more that we’re continuing to look at,” Schmidt stated. “So [one case is] not necessarily an outlier that way.”
By removing themselves from the team responsible for these allegations, did these officers think that they were just going to get away with it?
The summer of 2020 was a clear indication that police reform needs to happen and it needs to happen now. The lack of guidance from any official within the Portland Police Bureau is astonishing. These officers were not given any clarity on what to do in the situations they were presented with. However, this does not mean that they can point fingers at someone else. At a certain point, individual moral responsibility has to take over. It is evident that is not what happened in this case.
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty responded to the resignations by stating, ”What today’s action says is that some Portland police officers believe they are above the law. I support District Attorney Mike Schmidt in his efforts to hold police officers accountable when they commit crimes themselves.”
She’s right. Officers must be held accountable. While it is true that changes in leadership, policies and training must be made in order to create a better system, the act of abandoning ship is not acceptable. The members of the Rapid Response Team are not taking personal responsibility and instead are completely blaming the people in charge. In doing so, they are suggesting that the rules do not apply to them because the rules were not clear. What would have happened if the rules had been clear? Would they have followed them or continued to take matters into their own hands?
The bottom line is that the Rapid Response Team’s approach to the near four-month Black Lives Matter protests last year was unacceptable. Whether that was the fault of bureau leaders or individual officers is not the point. The point is that mistakes were made and there were immediate consequences because of them. 50 police officers collectively deciding that they don’t want to be under scrutiny for something they were responsible for is inappropriate and elitist.
Although the team has been deconstructed, the city will continue to work with the state to cover the responsibilities leftover. According to The Oregonian, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon and the lead FBI agent for the state issued a joint statement that urged “community members to join law enforcement in helping to ensure all future demonstrations remain peaceful and inclusive.”
Resigning from a team is not enough. If Portland really wants to move forward with police reform, everyone involved must be held accountable. As Hardesty put it, “no one is above the law.”