Portland Police Service – Rapid Response Team: A Case for Service, Support, and Accountability

Recently, a grand jury indicted Corey Budworth, a member of the Portland Police Rapid Response Team (RRT), on one count of fourth-degree assault. The indictment stems from an incident on […]
Published on August 12, 2021

Recently, a grand jury indicted Corey Budworth, a member of the Portland Police Rapid Response Team (RRT), on one count of fourth-degree assault. The indictment stems from an incident on August 18, 2020, when the officer used his baton to push a woman to the ground and then pushed the baton into her face. The incident was caught on video.

The RRT is a crowd-control unit composed of police officers who volunteer for deployment during events such as riots, large-scale searches, or disaster situations.

The indictment handed down by a Multnomah County grand jury on June 15, 2021 prompted fifty members of the volunteer unit to withdraw from the RRT. These officers have not resigned from the Portland Police Service, but they have withdrawn from future voluntary participation in the RRT.  

On June 17, the Portland Police’s media relations unit released the following statement:  

On June 16, 2021, Portland Police Bureau employees serving as members of the Rapid Response Team (RRT) left their voluntary positions and no longer comprise a team. Its members were sworn employees of the Portland Police who served on RRT in addition to their daily assignment in the Bureau. Despite no longer serving on RRT, they will continue in their regular assignments. There were approximately 50 employees serving as RRT members.1 

Still, this is an indication of the extreme challenges front-line police officers face when confronted with civil protests. Granted, the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year were emotionally charged, extremely violent, and often hijacked by those with criminal intent.  

In a June 18 statement, Daryl Turner, executive director of the Portland Police Association, said: “For months, the City of Portland endured a sustained level of destruction and violence on our streets like never before. I’m not talking about peaceful protests; I’m talking about the riots that consistently ensued, night-after-night, under the cover of darkness, after the peaceful protesters had gone home. Night-after-night, local politicians celebrated the destruction of our City as if looting, arson, property damage, physical violence, and even murder were permissible and lawful First Amendment activities.”2

Maintaining order even under normal circumstances is extremely difficult, including responding to daily criminal incidents, calls for assistance, maintaining peace and order, traffic flow, and a myriad of other public service functions. Add a national culture in which firearms access is nearly unabated, where mass murders have become a daily occurrence, where criminals generally outgun police, and where too many incidents of police misconduct have undermined police legitimacy and public support, and morale is certain to be diminished.

There is no doubt that unprecedented scrutiny, oversight, and disparagement in the court of public opinion have made policing an agonizingly challenging, dangerous, and uncomfortable vocation.

But police officers are the best of us: they take an oath to uphold the law, the Constitution, and to serve and protect all of us all the time. They commit to separating their own biases, politics, and beliefs from their duty, to act impartially, and to serve justly all the time. They join knowing that they will face danger, they will be subject to an adversarial system, and must at all times be transparent and accountable. They are reminded every time they take the stand that they have a duty to tell the truth—the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Turner is correct when he says, “Our Rapid Response Team members were volunteers who received and applied specialized training to manage crowd and protest events safely and effectively with as little force as practical. Our RRT volunteered for their duties because they truly believed in what they were doing—protecting our residents, our communities, and our City.”3

A video of Budworth’s actions is widely accessible. The officer can be seen pushing Teri Jacobs, a photographer, to the ground as she held her hands over her head, moving away from the officer. Budworth struck Jacobs in the head from behind and then struck her head again with a baton after she fell to the ground. 

Certainly this is not, as Turner puts it, a demonstration of the “specialized training to manage crowd and protest events safely and effectively with as little force as practical.” 

The vast majority of police officers believe in their vocation, their training, and their commitment to public safety. The district attorney’s office brought charges against Budworth, assisted by the Portland Police Service’s own investigation, and preferred by a grand jury—a group of citizens who conducted their own investigation to determine whether criminal charges should be brought, and not some solitary politicized individual.4 

There is no doubt that officers responding to the protests where this incident occurred were often overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, angry, left feeling unappreciated, and demoralized; but even that is not licence to overreach their duty. Moral and legal authority must be maintained by uncompromising adherence to the rule of law. Every officer who takes an oath and has years of ongoing training and practice knows this. Any breach is held accountable—that is what differentiates us from the regimes of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or Narendra Modi.

“The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Rank and File Officers including the Rapid Response Team (RRT) held the line. They put themselves in harm’s way to restore order and peace when destruction and mayhem struck. Rather than acknowledging and thanking those officers, rather than prioritizing public safety and peace, politicians criticized the RRT, further fueling the fires in our City,” Turner said.5

He is absolutely correct that the vast majority of officers did their duty valiantly, without fear or prejudice; and most of those whom they protected will only silently acknowledge and express their gratitude and appreciation. The vast majority of law enforcement officers who hold the line between order and chaos do so with honour, integrity, and courage. 

Turner may also be partly correct when he notes that the “Rapid Response Team members did not volunteer to have Molotov cocktails, fireworks, explosives, rocks, bottles, urine, feces, and other dangerous objects thrown at them. Nor did they volunteer to have threats of rape, murder, and assault on their families hurled at them. They did not volunteer to suffer serious injuries, to be subject to warrantless criticism and false allegations by elected officials, or to suffer through baseless complaints and lengthy investigations devoid of due process.”6  

But then policing has always been about responding to the worst in society—that’s no surprise to any sworn law enforcement officer, and we would do well to remember this. Turner is correct, however, in pointing to a lack of appreciation expressed by the benefactors of that service.  

This is not the failure of the criminal justice system or of police oversight; rather, it’s an indication of our failure to recognize the vast majority of hard-working, dedicated law enforcement officers who help preserve a society in which we can exercise, express, and demonstrate our hard-earned and sacred freedoms.

Upsetting his moral cart, Turner then states: “Yesterday, the entire Portland Police Bureau Rapid Response Team resigned from their voluntary positions. Until now, they have continued to come to work every day, exhausted and injured. The only glue holding the team together was their commitment, dedication, and integrity to serve their communities. But that glue dissolved when political venom demonized these public servants for doing exactly what they were tasked to do—restore peace and order in our City.”7

Turner could not be more wrong in his comment about the glue dissolving.8 The glue is not the freedom to overstep training, group-think, or exceptionalism. No one in their right mind, either within law enforcement or outside it, would suggest that there are instances when police officers should be allowed to do whatever it takes to restore peace and order. Budworth’s actions were not consistent with his training to “restore peace and order.” 

Peace and order can only be restored through the application of justice, accountability, and oversight. The glue that binds law enforcement officers is their integrity, their commitment, and the courage to do the right thing even under the most difficult circumstances.  

Turner’s frustration is understandable, but misplaced. Budworth’s actions are clear for everyone to see. He experienced a momentary lapse of judgment on the night of August 18, 2020. That lapse caused a protester physical injury; worse, it cast a shadow on other officers and the institution of policing. Turner’s function is to support Budworth and his family. He should commit himself to ensuring that the Budworth case is dealt with fairly through the adversarial criminal justice system, but to lobby against the sanctioning of errant behaviour is wrong.   

Unfortunately, Turner too must play politics, and feed the very beast he decries. He notes: “When elected officials turned nightly violence into political banter for their own personal agendas, those politicized actions put Rapid Response Team members and public safety at risk. The reality is our dedicated RRT members have had enough and were left with no other alternative but to resign from their voluntary positions.9  

“If the Rapid Response Team members’ resignation has highlighted anything, it’s that the priorities of our elected officials have failed. Roving gangs of black-clad rioters do not speak for the hundreds of thousands of residents and business owners of Portland who want a safe and clean city,” Turner added. “Yet local politicians supported them. These rioters, bent on destruction, hijacked social and racial justice movements. Yet local politicians supported them. These rioters burned and looted our City. Yet local politicians supported them.”

Turner is not entirely wrong, but police officers need to know that they will be treated fairly and that officers too face aggravating and mitigating factors. Does Budworth have a history of using excessive force or previous misconduct? Did he express remorse? Was Budworth properly trained for the function to which he was assigned? Was he issued the right equipment? Was he allowed sufficient rest and recuperation to be able to function effectively? Should the trier of facts take into consideration the circumstances under which Budworth was working at the time of the incident or should he become an example for general deterrence?

The fact that misconduct is identified and an officer charged should not be the concern—that is the natural course of the law. Concern here should arise if the basic principles of procedural and structural justice are not fairly applied and if the basic principles of sentencing—should there be a finding of guilt—are not applied equitably.

It is perhaps a little perfidious to suggest that any member of the RRT, including Budworth, didn’t know that they had volunteered to respond to the worst, most chaotic, and unpleasant calls for service.

Turner is right to point out that those of us who benefit from the services could and should do a better job of showing our appreciation and support.

Law enforcement officers are highly trained and highly professional. Acting out of character only relegates the entire profession to the role of a generic security service of uniformed guards. That’s not what Budworth is. 

Turner is gravely mistaken and does much disservice to his profession when he states: “The reality is our dedicated RRT members have had enough and were left with no other alternative but to resign from their voluntary positions.”10

There has been too much politicization of law enforcement, some legitimate and some unnecessary. Politicized rhetoric and hyperbole have taken their toll on Portland’s RRT, not the charges against Budworth. 

Anil Anand is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Endnotes

[1]  Staff, “Portland Police Rapid Response Team Members Leave Team, Remain in Primary Roles as Employees,” Portland Police Bureau, June 17, 2021, https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/news/read.cfm?id=311793.

[2] Daryl Turner, “On Portland’s Rapid Response Team,” June 18, 2021, https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/kptv.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/2/02/20286628-d06b-11eb-aec8-0b844a2fddae/60ccf39ad08b6.pdf.

[3] Ibid.

[4]  Brent Weisberg, “DA Mike Schmidt Announces Portland Police Officer Indicted over August 2020 Use of Force Incident,” Multnomah County District Attorney, June 15, 2021, https://www.mcda.us/index.php/news/da-mike-schmidt-announces-portland-police-officer-indicted-over-august-2020-use-of-force-incident/.

[5] Turner, “On Portland’s Rapid Response Team.” 

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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