On Wednesday night, members of the Portland Police Bureau’s specialized crowd-control unit, the Rapid Response Team, assembled at the Benevolent Association union hall and voted to disband the unit.
The unprecedented move by about 50 officers, detectives and sergeants to disband their own team came a day after a team member, Officer Corey Budworth, was indicted, accused of fourth-degree assault stemming from a baton strike against a protester last summer.
Officer Budworth was charged with misdemeanor assault against a photojournalist covering protesters by the Multnomah County District Attorney. The same district attorney has dismissed cases “in the interests of justice” against approximately 450 rioters who were arrested during 150 nights of nearly continual protests last summer following the death of George Floyd.
Budworth marked the first Rapid Response Team officer to face criminal prosecution stemming from force used during a protest. He’s accused of striking a woman, Teri Jacobs, in the face with a baton after knocking her to the ground on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard after a riot was declared near the Multnomah Building on Aug. 18.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt described Budworth’s baton strike as excessive force that was legally unjustified.
Participation in the Rapid Response Team was voluntary. The members did not resign from the Portland Police Bureau — their action simply means that their primary assignment will once again be as “patrol officers.” But the members of the unit had specialized training, specialized equipment, and extensive experience in various types of crowd-control measures.
This creates serious staffing problems for the Portland Police Bureau. Because Portland experiences almost continual protest activity of some kind, this unit — or parts of this unit — were called out on nearly a nightly basis. Being able to do so meant that other patrol officers did not need to be called away from their normal assignments to the scene of the protests unless the problems were too big for the special until to handle on their own.
Now the police command structure must be prepared to redirect patrol resources to the scene of any protests, which might create situations where normal policing is not possible and response times to citizens’ calls for assistance will be far longer.
It also means that “crowd control” responsibility will be spread out among all members of the Police Bureau, including officers with little or no training on how to perform that function.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who regularly voiced sentiments sympathetic to the protesters up to the Nov. 3, 2020 election day and the defeat of Pres. Trump, convened a Zoom conference with approximately 40 of the officers who resigned from the team:
The mayor also invited Rapid Response Team members to share their concerns directly with him during an 11 a.m. video conference call. Close to 40 officers appeared on the call. Wheeler reportedly asked the team members to delay their resignations from the team for a week so the Police Bureau could work out logistics for their replacement, but several officers on the conference could be seen visibly shaking their heads in opposition, according to one person present.
Wheeler has now reached out to the Oregon Governor to ask the State Police to have their crowd-control unit on standby in case they are needed.
But the decision by the Team members should not have caught Wheeler or the Bureau’s command structure by surprise. They have been warned over a long period of time that his failure to publicly support the efforts of the team could have consequences.
In late October, the president of the police union, the Portland Police Association, sent the mayor and police chief a letter, urging both to “stand up and publicly support Police Bureau members who voluntarily serve on the Rapid Response Team (RRT).”
The union president urged the mayor and City Hall to “stop using RRT members as political pawns,” and called the team’s members “exhausted and injured.” He wrote then that the “only glue holding their team together’’ was their “commitment to serve their city.”
“Our RRT members do not volunteer to have Molotov cocktails, fireworks, explosives, rocks, bottles, urine, feces and other dangerous objects thrown at them,” wrote Daryl Turner, then president of the union and now its executive director. He noted that the team members volunteer for the work without any specialty pay.
You reap what you sow, Ted.