What is the City Council considering? A measure to authorize $1.6 million for a pilot project for body cameras for Portland police is on the agenda for Thursday, March 14.
Why is this important? Some criminal justice experts believe body-worn cameras are one of the best tools for understanding what police actually do in the field, especially after controversial incidents, such as police shootings. Video of such incidents can provide a more reliable record of what led up to them, how the police reacted, and whether the reactions were justified.
Why just a pilot project? Despite their obvious benefits, body-worn cameras are controversial.
Some law enforcement authorities argue the videos do not always give a complete picture of what happened. There may be other people or vehicles outside the range captured on video. They also can malfunction.
Some civil libertarians say police use of such cameras can be invasive, capturing video of people in crisis in private locations without their permission.
And the actual costs of operating a bureauwide police camera system are not yet known, including the cost of storing and editing requested video for public release.
How long has the council been considering the issue? The use of such cameras came to prominence after a series of controversial officer-involved shootings nearly a decade ago. A 2013 survey of 500 police agencies found that less than 25 percent used them. Then-President Barack Obama voiced support for them and the U.S. Department of Justice made $23 million in grants available for pilot projects.
The Portland Police Bureau first began looking into them in 2014, seeking public feedback in 2015. The council approved $834,000 in one-time funds and $1.6 million in ongoing funds in the 2016-17 budget, but not all of the money was spent. Instead, the Oregon Legislature decided to weigh in on the issue, holding hearings and eventually setting guidelines for their use.
Other law enforcement agencies in the region already have deployed such cameras, including the Oregon State Police, the Washington County Sheriff's Office, the Beaverton and Hillsboro police departments, and the Portland State University Police Department.
When could the pilot project begin? If the council approves the ordinance, the project could begin in early 2020, following more public outreach by the police and additional approval by the council.
The hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, March 14, in the Council Chambers of City Hall.
You can read the ordinance at tinyurl.com/yytqlqbv.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.