In this June 2, 2020, file photo, police officers stand in a line on Middle Street in Portland during a late-night standoff with protesters. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

An outside consultant hired by the City of Portland found that Portland Police did a good job responding to Black Lives Matter protests involving hundreds of people last June, but also could have been better organized.

More than 30 people were arrested on June 1 and 2 in Portland, just days after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In their 40-plus page report, investigators with the Clifton Larson Allen consulting group said they relied on interviews with protesters, police body and dash cam footage, street camera footage and police department documents to produce their findings. They also used media coverage and social media postings.

The focus of the months-long investigation, as required by a majority of the City Council, was to ensure that the integrity of the police department was maintained in response to the June 1 protest that concluded early the next day. Specifically, the reviewers determined that police orders to the crowd to disperse were “lawful and appropriate” and that the deployment of chemical agents and pepper-ball projectiles “in most instances, were used appropriately.” They did not find any use of tear gas or rubber bullets, but pointed out that there were several instances of police batons being used by officers from other agencies.

More than a dozen agencies assisted in Portland during the protests, and witnesses complained that there was not any organization between the groups. For example, some protesters said they were arrested by officers from other departments, but the same Portland officer was listed on all the paperwork.

The report noted that despite the “extraordinary policing challenge” presented by the protests, police used force only after some individuals, not associated with the peaceful demonstration, became violent. The review team credited Portland police for making arrests “sparingly,” something they said sets Portland apart in a positive way from other police agencies around the country. In its own memo, Portland police highlighted the importance of planning but also acknowledged they did not have enough protective equipment for officers.

“The report confirms the men and women of our police department performed their responsibilities under great duress in a professional and admirable way,” City Manager Jon Jennings said. “I am very proud that the Portland Police Department long-ago embraced being progressive in its approach to working with the community, and has been a leader in utilizing modern programs and best practices.”

Since the protests last year, the Portland Police Department has implemented a crowd management policy aimed at “upholding the constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly while using the minimal amount of authority required to address crowd management and control issues and prevent injuries, loss of life and property damage.” New training requirements for police have also been put in place.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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