Portland has had its share of ugly clashes between groups of protesters in the last few years, most recently June 29. That day, at least eight people, including three police officers, were injured, and three people were arrested.

A year ago a similar scuffle broke out, and four people were arrested. In both cases, the problems arose when right-wing protesters were challenged by “antifa” groups.

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw has had her hands full as a result of the clashes. She and her officers have been slow to intervene between the two groups, arguing that they don’t want their presence to make a bad situation worse.

They were equally restrained during the Occupy Ice protests of 2018. ICE union members said that was because Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler had violated state law when he told the department to intervene only if someone’s life was in danger, a charge Wheeler denies.

At a news conference this week in Portland, Outlaw defended the police department, noting its aim on June 29 was to keep the two groups separate.

She also called for a new city ordinance that would bar protesters from wearing masks as they committed crimes. The masks, she argued, allow violent demonstrators to remain anonymous.

Well, yes. At the same time, however, it’s unlikely anyone seriously interested in remaining anonymous would skip the mask to avoid breaking that particular law.

Anonymity wouldn’t have been an issue, however, if there had been more arrests made early on, before tensions rose and minor scuffles grew. Outlaw notes that her department is shorthanded, with more than 120 vacancies, and police from outside the city have refused to come to the city’s aid to prevent problems. Surely, that lack of manpower calls for quick action early on, before things get out of hand.

Portland has a well deserved and much-loved reputation for being quirky. It doesn’t need to also have a reputation as riot headquarters of the West Coast. Yet if Portland Police don’t begin stopping problems quickly, that’s just the reputation it’s likely to earn.

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