People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Bureau Holds Community Forums on Police Body Cameras
In October, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) held two public meetings to seek input on policies for the use of body cameras. In 2015, the Oregon legislature passed a law outlining requirements for their use (PPR #66), allowing the PPB to pursue the technology. The police held these meetings to get community feedback on such questions as when cameras should be turned on and whether cameras should tape interactions with rape victims, domestic violence survivors or people with mental illness. (A third, poorly publicized meeting was held in December.) While the meetings were sparsely attended, audience members, including several Portland Copwatch (PCW) members, had many comments and questions about how the footage would be used.
According to the Oregonian (October 19), the cost to equip all patrol officers and sergeants would be around $5 million, which the Bureau hopes to accomplish by spring. But before they start using cop cams, they must develop policies, preferably with the approval of City Council. Privacy issues came to light in a September 13 Skanner article about a Seattle man who was arrested during a January demonstration to protest police violence. Though he was not charged, his arrest-- captured on police body camera, along with his name, address, phone number and birthdate-- is public record. On the flip side, the Chicago police refused to release dash-cam footage of the deadly police shooting of teen Laquan McDonald for over a year, leading to angry protests, the ousting of the Police Commissioner, and indictment of the officers once it was released.
As noted previously, PCW has remained neutral on the issue of body cameras because there are too many unanswered questions on their effects on privacy and Miranda rights. PCW is concerned the video will be used more to support convictions than to prove misconduct. PCW has urged the PPB to conduct an in-depth best practices study of what policies other cities are using, then share their findings at public meetings so the public can better understand these issues. In addition, we recommended the Bureau give the Citizen Review Committee or a similar group oversight of these policies.
Regarding the actual video footage, the City must find a system that ensures secure access and integrity of the footage. It must have a policy that ensures timely access to people who are the subject of force. PCW believes that if the subjects of the video approve, it can be publicly released and that faces don't have to be blurred (though required by the state law).
A major issue in the use of body cameras is when the cameras should be turned on. The state law requires cameras be activated upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. PCW does not have suggestions at this time on how to respect the privacy of rape victims and people in mental health crisis beyond requiring their consent to release footage. We do think the PPB should require cameras be on as much as possible when police interact with the public, even if it is just a conversation being used to obtain information. PPB stated at the meetings that officers will be subject to disciplinary action for failing to turn or keep cameras on.
• prohibiting officers from viewing tapes before giving statements to prevent them from changing their stories (see article); and
• ensuring officers inform civilians of the videoing and advise them of their rights.
Finally, the purpose of videoing must be clear. These recordings should never be used to track people's lawful activities, nor should they be used to prosecute community members for minor misdemeanors or infractions current or historical. Footage should be used primarily to hold police accountable for misconduct or criminal activity and, when the subject has given a release, to improve training and policy. Only when the PPB has implemented strong privacy protections and clear directions to its officers should they consider using cop cams.
See PCW's full proposal at portlandoregon.gov/police/article/521411#comment-12414
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.