Portland mayor: Police should prepare for body cameras

Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler is directing the police bureau to prepare for a body worn camera program in anticipation of the U.S. Department of Justice forcing the issue.

Wheeler said in a statement Tuesday he’s not alone in supporting police body worn cameras and that at least 75 other large government agencies use body worn cameras for policing, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

The Justice Department is urging the city to adopt body cameras and other accountability measures to bring the city back into compliance with the 2014 settlement agreement.

Wheeler said he directed the police bureau to begin researching the different camera systems available, seek bids from companies, and research federal grant money that might be available to help with the approximately $1 million tab to get the program started and estimated $1.5 million annual cost to maintain it.

Portland is the largest city in the U.S. that doesn’t use body cameras. The bureau was ready to launch a pilot program last year, but it was put on hold because of pandemic-related budget cuts.

Body cameras can automatically turn on if gunshots are heard, if an officer draws their weapon or when an officer turns on their lights and sirens. Supervisors can also see an officer’s camera stream in real time.

Other new technology and policies could assuage some critics’ concerns. For example, it’s much easier to blur victim and bystander faces before footage is released and public facing dashboards can be created to share footage.

Implementing body cameras will have to pass more than DOJ muster. Portland’s police union needs to sign off as well. Attorneys for the city and the police union are negotiating body camera policies behind closed doors as part of the union contract.

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