PORTLAND – Portland police have made new rules for making sure they’re firing beanbags, not live ammunition, when all they intend to do is stop a suspect.
The safeguards were announced Tuesday as a grand jury continued to look into Officer Dane Reister’s mistake in loading lethal rounds into a beanbag shotgun and wounding a man.
Portland police say Reister’s mistake was the first since the bureau adopted the beanbag shotgun in 1997. The man Reister hit in June survived, but his lawyer said he might have permanent nerve damage.
The Oregonian has reported other law enforcement agencies have more stringent policies, and the Portland bureau’s procedures faced criticism.
“The less-lethal program has had a 15-year-long record of being safe and effective and is an important tool in safely resolving dangerous incidents,” Larry O’Dea, acting as chief in the absence of Mike Reese, said in an email. Reese was at a police chiefs conference in Chicago.
Among the rules the Oregonian reported:
• Officers certified to carry the beanbag weapons must check out the guns from the precinct armory at the start of their shifts.
• They must load the beanbag shotguns only with bureau-issued beanbag ammunition stored in a carrier attached to the side of the orange-painted 12-gauge shotguns.
• Officers are encouraged to have another officer check how they load the weapons.
• Only supervisors will carry loose, replacement beanbag ammunition.
Firearms expert Ronald Scott, who spent more than 25 years as a Massachusetts state trooper and ran the agency’s ballistics sections investigating police shootings, called the bureau’s new restrictions a first step.
“To cover their backside, they’re saying we’re going to take away from the officer any choice that he may have,” Scott said. “This is a policy that should have been in place a long time ago.”
Reister’s lawyer, Janet Hoffman, has argued in court motions that the bureau’s “gross negligence” contributed to the error.
“It’s appropriate that they’re making these changes, and it’s unfortunate as it pertains to my client’s situation that these minimal standards have taken so long to go in effect,” Hoffman said.