People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
This past session the Oregon Legislature passed two statutes: one establishing rules for police body cameras, and the other allowing civilian recordings of police in public places. HB 2571-B requires law enforcement agencies that use video and audio recordings, commonly called cop cams, to establish polices and procedures for the use, storage and retention of these recordings. These polices must include requirements that:
--a recording must be kept for at least 180 days but not more than 30 months if it is not part of an ongoing criminal investigation or a court case;
--a cop cam must be set to record continuously beginning when the officer contacts a person after "develop[ing] reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that a crime or violation has occurred, is occurring or will occur." The camera must continue to record until the officer wearing the cop cam has ended his or her contact;
--regarding any contract with a third party vendor for data storage, recordings from the camera are the property of the law enforcement agency, are not owned by the vendor and cannot be used by the vendor for any purpose inconsistent with the policies and procedures of the law enforcement agency;
-- no facial recognition technology may be used to analyze recordings; and
--the recordings must be used for a legal law enforcement purpose.
This new law makes it difficult to obtain footage, and even so requires all faces to be blurred out so as not to be identifiable.
While Portland Copwatch has remained neutral on cop cams, we certainly support the implementation of guidelines that regulate their use. We do however have some serious concerns about this new law:
--There is no discussion of who shall develop local guidelines or that there must be public input on their development; and
--In the effort to protect privacy by blurring faces, too much information may be lost.
We are also concerned that cop cams have not been fully tested and they may result in unexpected consequences for the public (see PPRs #64-65).
The other statute, HB 2704, enshrines in state law the policy established by Portland Police following a lawsuit in 2008 that says capturing officers' conversations in public places does not violate state wiretapping laws. This is a very important bill for anyone who does copwatching.
Much ink is being spilled (as well as many digital pixels) by mainstream media organizations expressing alarm at the supposed uptick in Portland "gang" activity. The Oregonian has run articles on the "Gang patrol" (July 5) and the so-called "snitch code" (May 24), yet also reported on July 19 there were 20 homicides in Portland in the first 6.5 months of 2015-- only one was "gang- related." However, two have been officer involved shootings (the Oregonian only notes one). Bringing some sanity to the discussion, the Portland Mercury ran an article on June 24 analyzing the City's claim there had been "76 gang-related violent crimes" in the year to date. They quote Portland NAACP President JoAnn Hardesty saying the word "gang" is a "catch-all for any shooting where you think the suspect is black."
The Mercury explains while people have the right to appeal being labeled a "gang affiliate" (PPR #9), the police have created a much broader category, "gang-related." This undefined term allowed them to claim a shooting on June 10 had something to do with gangs even when they could not identify a suspect. The City responded by reassigning more officers to be part of the ill- trained "Gang Enforcement Team," while the police "union" is blaming the supposed rise in crime to low staffing levels at the Bureau (see "Rapping Back"). What we've seen over the years, and what's become particularly important with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, is that the police will exaggerate the threats to the black community in order to bolster support and quash dissent.
The Mercury also notes that a 2014 Multnomah County report said "law enforcement agencies in the County do not have an accurate method of identifying gang-involved people," and listed groups like the Juggalos-- fans of the band Insane Clown Posse. The good news: PPB spokesperson Pete Simpson told the Mercury the Bureau is thinking about changing the language they use, though he fears saying "gun violence" will make people feel the overall crime rate is higher than it actually is.
It should be noted, too, that a white alleged gang member was the subject of a police shooting this year, but the bullet missed (PPR #65).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.