PORTLAND—Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, whose position includes the Portland Police Commissioner seat, announced the end of the Portland Police Bureau’s use of CS gas as a crowd control munition.
“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 Bureau to end the use of CS gas for crowd control,” said Mayor Wheeler.
Wheeler mentioned that the Oregon State Legislature previously convened experts to evaluate the use of gas and safer alternatives stating, “I commit the city of Portland to full participation in these reforms and encourage the Legislature to complete this work as soon as possible.”
CS gas is the chlorine-containing aerosol of volatile solvent that Portland police have used intermittently during the past 105 daily protests in the region. The gas has been used to control crowds that refuse to disperse, which are often declared riots and include unlawful behaviors including arson, vandalization, and violence. Officers recently deployed CS gas on Sunday, September 6.
A study by the U.S. army found that recruits exposed to tear gas were more likely to get sick with respiratory illnesses. Last June, Duke University professor Sven-Eric Jordt told NPR, “There are sufficient data proving that tear gas can increase the susceptibility to pathogens, to viruses.” Jordt pointed out that COVID-19 is especially susceptible in people with predispositions to respiratory issues. He also stated that the tear gas chemicals are banned in warfare.
On September 5, a Portland employee told the OPB that their home was filled with the chemical after it was deployed at a protest in Portland’s East Precinct. Last July, inmates complained of difficulty breathing when CS gas entered the vents of the Multnomah County Justice Center, while a riot was being broken up outside. In order to prevent the situation from recurring, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office decided to close air dampers regularly from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.. Wheeler experienced the gas when he attended a protest in July, days later announcing he would ensure a cutback on the use of CS gas at protests.
According to The Oregonian, Oregon State Police say Wheeler’s decision is “reckless and short sighted.”
They indicated the decision might stop them from sending troopers to help Portland officers disperse crowds. Oregon State Police Captain Timothy Fox said his agency still views CS gas as a viable tool to protect officers and the public. “The OSP will be forced to assess our involvement in assisting the city of Portland,” said Fox.
A federal judge’s order in June restricted Portland police from using CS gas except when lives or public safety are at risk. On September 9, Portland also banned city departments from using facial-recognition technology for the sake of privacy, said Wheeler in the announcement.