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Steel doors, new riot squad: Portland prepares for fiery election season

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Portland is building stainless-steel barricades and forming a new crowd control police unit to protect against violent political protests ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

The city has almost finished building seven large, hinged barricades that can drop down in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse’s west entrance, according to the Portland Tribune. The site faced large protests and sometimes violent riots for months following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. 

“These measures are a first step toward hardening facilities and can be implemented relatively quickly when compared with more significant measures to redesign and renovate entrances, perimeter spaces, and interior public spaces, which will take more funding and longer to complete,” the U.S. Courts’ administrative office wrote in a report. 

Portland is building a stainless steel barricade around its downtown federal courthouse to prepare for future political protests.  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Portland’s monthslong Floyd protests became national news when rioters began shooting projectiles including rocks, ball bearings and industrial-grade fireworks at the building, causing $1.6 million in damages, Axios reported. 

Following the 2020 protests, Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) previous crowd control team and the city faced lawsuits, with some community members even receiving settlements after their homes were caught in clouds of tear gas. 

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The new barricades resemble airplane hangar doors with shielded screens on top. The project was estimated to cost $4.5 million and also includes renovations to the building’s entryways, the Portland Tribune reported.

Portland riot in 2020

Protesters walked through chemical irritants dispersed by federal agents at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Portland, Oregon following a larger Black Lives Matter Rally. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

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Additionally, the Portland City Council on Wednesday approved creating a new PPB crowd control unit. Team members, who would respond to protests and other “public order events,” will receive a 6% pay raise, which will cost an additional $380,000 annually.

The new unit replaces the former Rapid Response Team, whose approximately 50 members resigned in June 2021 after one of its officers was charged with assault over accusations that he struck a protester’s head with his baton in August 2020.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said creating a new “Public Order Team” within PPB is a “must-have” for Portland heading into the election season.

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