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Big Brother Comes to Town

Cameras On June 6, Portland City Council passed an ordinance allowing surveillance cameras to be affixed to businesses starting in Old Town/Chinatown for the stated purpose of curtailing criminal activity. Amanda Fritz was the sole commissioner voting against the ordinance, since her proposed amendment to evaluate the use of the cameras in a year wasn't adopted. The ordinance releases business owners that accept police cameras from any liability resulting from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) installing or using those cameras. The first camera location will be Boxer Northwest on NW 6th and Flanders--at the PPB's suggestion, not the store owner's. No other locations have been disclosed.

Without a substantial discussion, a second ordinance was passed accepting a $100,000 grant to install microwave transmitters and receivers for cameras in the PPB's two Cessna airplanes. The money came from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The existing policy ("directive") on use of the aircraft allows for use in "crow control" (crowd control, their typo), so the new equipment is sure to be used for that purpose. While the old transmitters required a handheld device in line of sight, the new ones will send the signal to a "secure" website.

PPB plane The videos will be accessed on Smart phones and laptops, which leads to concerns over security and how many individuals would have access to those images, particularly the airplane videos. Fire and Rescue and other agencies not prohibited from collecting information under ORS 181.575 will have access to the images. It's likely that DHS and other federal agencies not bound by Oregon law will as well.

To address concerns raised by the ACLU and Portland Copwatch (who had the item pulled off the "consent agenda" in April, forcing a public discussion), Council asked Chief Reese to create a policy limiting the surveillance cameras' use to public areas and official police duties. Per the directive, "All recordings, unless being used in a criminal investigation or prosecution, shall be destroyed or deleted within 30 days. Only [PPB] members with a need to know or with investigative, administrative or management responsibility will access video records."

Criminal activity is always the reason cited for reduced privacy. Part of the new directive states that the PPB may videotape at assemblies, protests and demonstrations for "training purposes." With the PPB's history of suppressing freedom and engaging in police brutality, the community can have little faith that this will be used in the manner stated. Police should not be gathering information about people just walking down the street, talking, protesting, and conducting themselves lawfully. The cameras could also be used to initiate pretext arrests or citations for minor infractions such as jaywalking or littering.

The benefit will be one-sided. While cameras may allow the police to use footage for the purposes of curtailing criminal activity, the Council tried to sell the idea that police harassment and abuse will also be recorded. But it is doubtful such footage will be shared or reported. The Mayor also repeatedly referred to a poll showing that a majority of Portlanders want more cameras; however, since those queried were not also asked follow up questions about potential privacy infringements, that poll is meaningless. It's important to note, too, that the Council vote was only to indemnify businesses who have PPB cameras mounted on their property; apparently, the Bureau owns multiple surveillance cameras and has been using them for years.

Several people at the hearing stated that the ubiquitousness of cameras in our daily lives means that we should not be concerned about the police operating such cameras. Quite the contrary: the cameras on Tri-Met, in convenience stores, and on other private buildings will only be turned over to police when they contain suspected criminal activity, whereas police cameras will record everything.

The PPB and the City claim the cameras will reduce crime, but until the City can address the causes of the so-called drug and gang problems, they will only get worse and shift location. Cameras don't eliminate addiction, violence, and lack of opportunity, just our privacy.

  People's Police Report

September, 2012
Also in PPR #57

Portland Police Shoot Several,
  Chasse Discipline Overturned

  • Other Shootings in Oregon
Excessive Force on May Day 2012
Serious Complaint Uninvestigated
Shooting Report Confirms Concerns
IPR Report Shares Little
New Cameras Monitor Citizens
Homeless Still Targeted
Promotions for Questionable Cops
Candidates on Police Accountability
Stops Data Show Police Bias
  • Taser Lawsuits
  • Gun Exclusions Disproportionate
  • Drug Exclusions Also Disproportionate

Quick Flashes
  • FBI Raids Activists Homes
  • Man in Mental Health Crisis Beaten, Tased
  • Whistle Blower Demoted, Sues
  • Cops Still For Sale In Portland
  • DOJ Says Copwatching Protected Speech
  • Skateboards, PPB Video, Sheriff Guilty

Rapping Back #57

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

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