Survey Says Portland Cops Should Be Locked Out Of Recordings Until After They’ve Written Reports, Answered Investigators
from the it's-time-to-make-cops-cameras-work-for-the-people dept
The Department of Justice has been keeping an eye on the Portland (OR) Police Bureau (PPB) for nearly a decade now, finding that officers routinely engage in excessive force, especially when dealing with residents suffering from mental illness. A consent decree was put in place in 2014. Since then, the Portland PD has violated the agreement regularly.
In early 2021, the DOJ (again) approached the city and its Police Bureau, demanding more reforms to bring it in compliance with the agreement the PD had signed seven years earlier.
In February, the Justice Department found the Police Bureau failed to meet four key reforms under the settlement, citing inappropriate police use and management of force during protests last year, inadequate training, subpar police oversight and a failure to adequately share an annual Police Bureau report with the public as required.
More pressure was applied later that year, when the DOJ strongly suggested the PPB begin outfitting its officers with body-worn cameras.
U.S. Justice Department lawyers on Monday sent a letter to Portland’s city attorney and police chief recommending all uniformed patrol officers, sergeants and any officers regardless of rank who are part of tactical, traffic or crowd-control operations should wear body cameras.
The letter came as the city remains in negotiations with the police union over the parameters of equipping officers with body cameras — one of the steps the city can take to return to compliance with its 2014 settlement with the federal government over police use of excessive force.
Somehow, the police force patrolling one of the most “progressive” cities in the country was still using outdated tech to collect footage of police interactions, limited almost solely to whatever could be captured by dash cams. The DOJ also suggested the cameras be activated any time officers engaged with a member of a public, but especially in cases where guns or Tasers were drawn or car chases initiated.
Somehow, the Portland PD has still failed to start equipping its officers with body cameras. This will be changing, but apparently on the PPB’s timeline, rather than the DOJ’s. 173 officers will be part of the test run that will test camera functionality. Eventually, this will expand to 636 officers. Currently, the city employees about ~800 sworn officers.
The PPB and the public differ on how body camera footage should be handled. The PB believes it should set the rules on access to footage. Or, at least, its union feels this way.
Sgt. Aaron Schmautz, president of the Portland Police Association, argued that allowing officers to view the camera footage beforehand would allow them to consider all the evidence and write the most accurate and thorough report of what occurred.
Schmautz said most agencies of “any substantial size” in Oregon, including Oregon State Police, the Clackamas and Washington county sheriff’s offices, Eugene, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Medford and Bend police departments, allow officers to review their camera video before writing reports.
The DOJ disagrees.
The Justice Department has recommended to the city that when a Portland police officer uses force, the officer shouldn’t review any of the recordings before first reporting and then completing all reports or interviews associated with the incident.
Officers who use deadly force or are involved in a death in custody case also shouldn’t view any of the footage until they give an interview to an investigator and only after they get permission from the local prosecutor, the federal lawyers suggested. Local prosecutors may not, for example, want an officer to view the footage before testifying before a grand jury.
The DOJ’s position may be an outlier, but it’s not as though it’s nonexistent. The DOJ noted this was the policy in place in major cities like Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia.
A majority of Portland residents agree with the DOJ: cops should be locked out of body cam footage in certain cases.
More than half, or 52 percent, of 2,110 community members surveyed in Portland this year said police should not be allowed to view body camera footage that captures an officer’s use of force before writing reports or being interviewed.
And 46 percent of those surveyed said videos of police use of deadly force should be made public immediately after prosecutors determine that releasing the footage won’t jeopardize a criminal investigation.
A survey [PDF] conducted by the city with the assistance of consultants Rosenbaum & Associates queried the public on the DOJ’s body cam recommendations, as well as those crafted by the city’s civilian oversight board, the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP). Here’s the PCCEP’s recommendations:
PPB should be transparent in how officers for the pilot project are selected. Officers for the pilot
project should be randomly selected. This will alleviate the perception that officers are
handpicked for the project based on behavior and other positive factors that could influence
PPB should be transparent in how officers for the pilot project are selected. Officers for the pilot project should be randomly selected. This will alleviate the perception that officers are handpicked for the project based on behavior and other positive factors that could influence results.
We strongly recommend body camera footage be stored by an independent third party.
Officers should write their police reports before viewing body camera footage. This would avoid officers tailoring their accounts of the incident based on what the footage shows.
Strict discipline for officers who turn off their cameras when they are supposed to be engaged. This should include the possibility of termination.
Public access to the video should be accessible to all individuals in regard to disabilities, etc including ADA accessible.
These recommendations make sense. That’s why the PPB rank-and-file — as fronted by their police union — is against them. The public definitely wants more accountability. The 52% wanting cops to be locked out of footage until after reports are written and interviews completed may seem like a slim majority, but factor in the 13.5% that had no opinion and only 34% of city residents think cops should be able to craft narratives that fit the recordings when writing reports or answering questions.
Other results from the survey show an overwhelming majority of those surveyed want more accountability from police officers.
– Seventy percent said the city auditor’s office should be able to view the body camera recordings to evaluate the Police Bureau’s performance.
– Ninety percent said the Police Bureau’s training division should be allowed to view body camera recordings to help develop or alter officer training.
– Eighty-five percent said an officer’s supervisor should be allowed to randomly review body camera recordings to see if an officer is doing their job appropriately.
I’m sure the PPB knows the public wants more accountability from officers. But it’s probably going to side with what its officers want, which is more of the opacity that has encouraged a culture of violence and misconduct. But the DOJ agreement complicates matters, and that means the PPB will at least have to try to meet the public halfway, which should hopefully make the city’s cops better by making the worst of the rank-and-file feel the heat.