Police Reform Amidst Eugene Protests

Over the past few months, the Eugene Police Department has been working hard to manage protests safely and effectively. The department has currently spent $650,000 of overtime costs to do just that. Chief of the Eugene Police Department, Chris Skinner, explains his view on police reform and the department’s recent work in our community.

Creating Space for People to be Heard

Eugene and Portland share many similarities with ongoing protests during the past months. A common theme between both cities is the level of emotion involved in the protests. The police have been trying to hold space for people to be heard. This means creating a safe space to demonstrate, voice opinions, and have dialogue. 

Learning to Create Balance

A persistent challenge with managing protests has been ensuring people’s physical safety while giving people space to demonstrate. As Chief Skinner puts it, the Eugene police are very much learning how to do this. The protest on the night of May 29th grew much faster and became violent more quickly than the department anticipated. 

In response, the police did their best to respond appropriately over the next few days. Since then, the police have been learning what responses are appropriate in the moment. They try to be present and watchful but not to be agitators.

Managing Different Groups

At protests, the police have found themselves amidst a slew of different groups. These groups include Black Unity, American Descendants of Slaves, and Black Lives Matter. Each group has its own personality and tendencies about how they publicize their gatherings and take action. 

There has also been an infusion of counter-protestors who feel the need to protect the community. These groups often show up to protests with American flags, open carry guns, and other firearms. While their intention may be to help, their presence tends to aggravate things further. The police often find themselves caught in the middle between different groups that bring different challenges.

Keeping the Community Safe from Criminal Activity

Unfortunately, recent protests have coincided with surges in criminal activity. Recently, after protestors blocked the streets and held speeches at the courthouse, a group of around 40 people marched on campus with spray paint cans. 

Eugene PD’s Commitment to Nonviolence

Chief Skinner strongly believes that there is a way for people to be heard and exercise their rights without resorting to violence. Whether being violent means spray painting property or throwing a rock through a window. Even during a time of political unrest, the police will continue holding people accountable and do their best to create safe spaces for expression.

Small Groups Taking Advantage of the Current Situation 

The police have found that smaller and often unrelated groups have instigated much of the civil unrest around race equality. A majority of the individuals engaging in criminal activity have been young white men. 

Police Reform Discussions Around Campaign Zero

Over the next few weeks, there will be meetings happening at the city level with the intent to improve our community. An ad-hoc community will form that brings together two members of different groups to talk specifically about police policy and procedure as it relates to Campaign Zero.

The Eugene Police’s Progressive History

While discussion of police reform is a hot topic, Chief Skinner says the Eugene Police Department has been on a progressive path for a while. For the last four years, their entire department has been wearing body cams. In the past, the Eugene PD has been responsive towards the voice of the community. Today, they want to help reshape what public safety looks like in this community.

Refocusing Police Efforts

In the attempts to reform policing, Chief Skinner points out how police have taken on many problems they are not trained for. From handling sensitive mental health problems to addressing familial disputes, Skinner says that police need to return to what they should be doing. 

Adapting Police Resources During COVID

During the months of COVID, the police have adapted their jobs to meet new needs. Since there are fewer people parking in town, parking enforcement officers have started monitoring campers. Having these officers on the scene helps keep the police department from engaging when it’s not necessary. 

Questions from the Audience

The following sections are about the questions that the audience asked Chief Skinner towards the end of the Zoom discussion.

Precautions for Election Night

The police say they have been considering the community’s response on election night. Regardless of the outcome, they expect demonstrations. However, since people may not know the outcome for a few days, they can’t be sure of the intensity of response. While they aren’t ready to go for the night of the election, the police are engaged in having that conversation.

Effective Arrests Mitigate Criminal Activity

The arrests that the police have made in response to the protests have been effective. The police have focused on pinpointing and then surgically removing agitators from the crowd. By making selective arrests, the Eugene Police Department stymied some of the more violent protests. Additionally, their actions have been a warning to others planning to commit criminal acts. 

Ensuring Police Have the Resources They Need

Through the police department’s perspective, the police need more resources to improve the work they do. As stated earlier, the police have tended to take on many societal issues that they do not have the funding or training for. While some may argue to defund the police to support other essential services, Chief Skinner says this should only happen after the police are adequately funded, and people feel safe. When people call 911, Skinner says that people should trust they will get a response. 

The Chief’s Take on Black Lives Matter

Chief Skinner recognizes that, at times, the police have disproportionately utilized their authority against Latinos and African Americans. However, he also acknowledges that the BLM movement isn’t only speaking to the police. He believes his part is to listen and make changes where it makes sense.

Committed to Keeping Our Community Safe

Throughout the summer and into fall, the police have done their best to manage protests in Eugene. They are continuously learning how to provide the best responses for each situation to create safe spaces in the community.

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