Portland Police Body Camera Policy is Critical for Accountability
October 4, 2016 - The Portland City Council will soon vote on whether to ratify an agreement with the Portland Police Association about a new police union contract and a draft body camera policy. The agreement creates a serious risk that body cameras will not serve as a tool for accountability in Portland by giving the Portland Police Association too much power over the contents of the body camera policy. Because of this, and concerns that the public was shut out of negotiations over the police union contract, we have asked the Portland City Council not to ratify the agreement.
Police body cameras have the potential to serve as a much-needed police oversight tool, but if the technology is to be effective at providing oversight, reducing police abuses, and increasing community trust, it is vital that the cameras be deployed with good policies to ensure they accomplish those goals. Without good policies, body cameras risk becoming just another police surveillance device—and one with very real potential to invade privacy. Especially important are policies governing when the cameras are turned on, and who has access to the footage and under what conditions.
The City's current draft body camera policy says that police officers can review footage BEFORE writing their reports. We strongly oppose this because, among other concerns, it can taint or distort officer’s testimony.
Police reform advocates and the public at large deserve to have a meaningful say in the creating the policy that governs police body cams. Furthermore, City Council—not the Portland Police Association and the Portland Police Bureau—should be given the final say on the body camera policy. The policy will determine whether body cameras are used as a tool to prosecute and surveil members of the public or to reduce police violence and misconduct. It is crucial that we get this right.
Model police body camera policy (PDF)
ACLU testimony to Portland City Council RE: Body Camera Policy (PDF) - 5.12.16
ACLU testimony to Portland City Council RE: Body Camera Policy (PDF) - 9.29.16
ACLU letter to Portland City Council RE: Body Camera Policy (PDF) - 10.4.16