People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
In PPR #64, we relayed information differentiating the important practice of community members videotaping police interactions and the current clamor to outfit every police officer with a body camera. While Portland Copwatch (PCW) has taken an officially neutral stance on the introduction of the cameras, we posted an essay about our concerns (including rights against self- incrimination, police spying, and financial benefits to the cameras' manufacturers) to the Bureau's website in late March after they invited public comment. A number of bills in the legislature seek to clarify both obligations of police departments capturing information on video and the ability of civilians to tape cops without being charged with violating Oregon's "interception of communications" law. (A Portland policy created in 2008 makes it OK to record Portland officers- - PPR #46). An example of why this law is needed: the ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Carrie Medina, whose camera was seized by a Gresham cop in 2013 (PPR #59). Upon announcing the suit on February 11, the ACLU alleged "the police violated Medina's free speech and free press rights when they stopped her recording and broadcasting of the police activity."
Among the points PCW raised in its comments to the Bureau:
€ A January 1 Portland Tribune story on Oregon City's adoption of video cameras only talks about the uptick in prosecutions, but says nothing about officer misconduct.
€ An article about San Diego's camera program talks about the drop in force and the drop in complaints the same way as the unreliable Rialto study that's always cited-- comparing one year to the next but not comparing the officers with cameras to those without (LA Times, March 18).
Also, footage of an Oklahoma reserve deputy "accidentally" shooting a man when he "thought he drew his Taser" shows the limits of a camera on a participant in the event (Assocaited Press, April 13); a Taser warning and gunshot are heard, but the deputy is not on screen. The deputy was charged with manslaughter anyway.
Storing and maintaining thousands of hours of footage will be incredibly expensive. The Bureau's questions posed to the community mostly focus on the embarrassment it might cause to people who are caught in the worst moments of their lives on what's essentially a public document. What's really important, though, is that if Portland gets the cameras, (a) the cops can't be the ones deciding what to purge, (b) people who have been mistreated by police must have access to the footage, and (c) the video must not be used to troll for minor crimes or political purposes.
We'll keep you posted about the bills regarding police cameras and copwatching.
Send thoughts on body cameras to the Bureau: portlandoregon.gov/police/article/521 411
Despite repeated requests, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) continues to post a number of general orders ("Directives") on line each month for feedback with no indication of what's being changed (PPR #64). People have to check each Directive line by line-- often 3-4 pages-- to make meaningful comments. Featured in first three months of 2014 were items crucial to the the US Department of Justice Agreement (article) on police and mental health as well as courtesy, police identification, media relations, holding cells and Miranda warnings among others.
Portland Copwatch noted the ideas of de-escalation and disengagement need not be limited to contacts with people in mental health crisis (#850.20), and asked that fees for police reports be waived for indigent persons (#614.50). We also pointed out how appealed misconduct cases related to Miranda warnings (#870.90-David Walker not read his rights when questioned about a cell phone, PPR #64) and identification of suspects (#870.80-African American Lisa Haynes at 4'10" mistaken for 5'-4" Latino man, PPR #59).The April batch brought back 11 orders on oversight issues and revisited mental health.
See the policies under review and finalized revisions: www.portlandoregon.gov/police/59757.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.