Aug 22, 2023 - News

Body cameras now in use by Portland police

Illustration of a police hat with a badge shaped like a video camera icon.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Portland's long-disputed police body camera program started Monday. About 150 officers will wear cameras during this pilot phase, which runs through Oct. 19.

Why it matters: Portland is the last big city to equip officers with body cameras, which the police bureau says will "enhance the community-police relationship by providing additional transparency."

  • Opponents still have concerns about body cams potentially being used for crowd surveillance, although former city council member Jo Ann Hardesty said technology improvements helped change her mind about that.

How it works: The cameras are attached to officers' vests, and police are instructed to start recording when they are sent on a call, among other times.

  • Bluetooth sensors automatically turn on the cameras when weapons are drawn or police car flashing lights are turned on.
  • Only officers in Portland's Central Precinct, which covers the west and inner east side, and a unit focused on reducing gun violence will wear cameras during the pilot.
  • The number of officers wearing a camera any given day will vary depending on staffing, police spokesperson Terri Wallo Strauss told Axios. On Monday, nearly 50 officers over three shifts were expected to be using the cameras.

The intrigue: Body cams were delayed in Portland in part due to disagreement on whether officers who used deadly force could review footage before writing incident reports.

  • Long negotiations ended earlier this year with an agreement that officers can only review footage after telling internal investigators what happened.
  • Once a statement is given, officers and investigators can review body cam footage and "clarify any discrepancies," per policy.
  • Their statement has to be recorded within 48 hours after any use of potentially deadly force.

Of note: According to research from the U.S. Department of Justice, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of body cameras to meet their major goals: improving safety and evidence quality and lowering agency liability and complaints about police behavior.

What's next: All 300 or so Portland patrol officers are expected to be wearing body cameras by next fall.


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