Media Contact

Christina Nguyen,

April 7, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. — The ACLU of Oregon issued the following statement from Staff Attorney Rachel Dallal Gale in response to an audit released by the City of Portland on April 6, 2022.

The audit reveals that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) violated Oregon law and infringed on community members’ First Amendment rights. Specifically, the audit found that PPB engaged in far-reaching surveillance of protesters during the summer and fall of 2020, and that “better management” is needed to safeguard civil rights against law enforcement overreach. The audit underscores that PPB provided “no guidance” to officers regarding the appropriate legal boundaries of their surveillance strategies, and offered “no direction” to officers engaged in the “extensive[]” monitoring of protesters’ social media accounts. 

This confirms what the ACLU of Oregon and community activists have long suspected, and emphasizes the urgent need to develop effective, transparent oversight mechanisms for police surveillance. 

As the City’s audit recognizes, law enforcement generally, and PPB in particular, has a long and troubled history of collecting intelligence information on individuals and groups engaged in lawful First Amendment activity. Over the last several decades, this intelligence information has been used to suppress civil rights activism, over-police Black communities, and – specifically in Portland – to maintain dossiers on everything from food cooperatives to women’s rights organizations. Today, as the audit demonstrates, such surveillance is used to track those calling for racial justice – without evidence of suspected criminal activity or any other “document[ed] reason.”  

Such indiscriminate, warrantless surveillance chills free speech, erodes trust between community and government, and creates alarming opportunities for abuse. That is why, under Oregon law, the police are prohibited from collecting and maintaining information on anyone’s political views or activities outside of a criminal investigation. PPB’s broad and highly intrusive surveillance of protesters in 2020 is a blatant violation of this law.  

We have already successfully taken PPB to court over their illegal surveillance activities during the 2020 racial justice demonstrations – but the audit reveals that the extent of their surveillance goes even further than we understood. We agree with the City Auditor’s conclusion that “officers need clear direction from the Bureau to ensure they comply with the law.” Portland deserves comprehensive, transparent policies governing police surveillance, as well as increased accountability from PPB leadership. 

The First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and engage in political speech is foundational to American democracy. This is particularly apparent when community members exercise their free speech rights to criticize the government and demand justice for the oppressed. 

Mayor Ted Wheeler is the City Commissioner in charge of managing the Portland Police Bureau. This damning report obligates the Mayor to take swift action to ensure accountability for those at PPB who allowed these unlawful actions to occur, to provide a pathway for the vindication of the rights PPB violated, and to prevent it from happening again.