Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Tuesday, Aug. 3, that he has directed the Portland Police Bureau to research body camera technology as a response to a request from the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Given that the issue of body worn cameras is being raised by the Department of Justice, it is important that I, as Police Commissioner, take steps immediately to lay the groundwork for a body worn camera program in the event the City Council ultimately approves such a program consistent with any bargaining obligations," Wheeler said in the statement.
"Accordingly, I have directed the Police Bureau to begin researching equipment options and bids from vendors, while also pursuing possible grant funding opportunities to help pay for a body worn camera program."
Wheeler has long supported police body cameras and had been preparing to ask the council to fund them before the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to reduce available revenue. The federal government provided more than enough emergency aid to overcome the shortfall after the budget was adopted.
The U.S. Department of Justice included the request in a series of other ones that it made last month amid an ongoing back-and-forth between federal officials and the city of Portland regarding their joint civil rights settlement agreement.
The requests also include looking at officers' use of force, training, holding officers accountable and community engagement.
The full list says that the city of Portland should:
• implement body-worn cameras for all officers.
• revise its Force Data Collection Report and After-Action Review forms to include information "to show required timeliness of completion and review."
• contract with a qualified outside entity to "critically assess the city's response to crowd control events in 2020 in a public-facing report that includes recommendations to which the city will publicly respond."
• "create a 'needs assessment' for crowd control training that adequately addresses issues PPB's response to the 2020 protests. We propose this should be part of the crowd control assessment we just discussed."
• ensure "PPB's budget covers officers' annual required training without relying on overtime."
• appoint a "qualified civilian head over PPB's Training Division to ensure consistent and appropriate training based on problem-based learning and other generally accepted adult-learning techniques."
• identify and hold accountable "(Rapid Response Team) lieutenants and above who approved force without adequate justification during the 2020 protests."
• If the city of Portland's "proposal for addressing timeliness and quality of investigations and effective discipline is the implementation of the new voter-approved Community Police Oversight Board, the city should propose amendments to the agreement within 90 days and formulate a plan for an orderly transition to and full implementation of the board."
• issue its 2020 annual report and hold the required meetings before the end of summer 2021, and do the same in 2022 and any future years during which the agreement is still in effect."
Here is Wheeler's full statement:
"I have been a longtime supporter of body worn cameras for the police. They are used in most large cities and are shown to assist in accountability, public transparency, and fewer reports of misconduct.
"Before the pandemic, I proposed a body worn camera pilot program as part of my budget, but given the citywide budget reductions required due to the impacts of the pandemic, I had to withdraw my funding request for that initiative.
"I am not alone in supporting police body worn cameras. At least 75 other large government agencies use body worn cameras for policing. As you might have read in the media, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked the city to adopt a body worn camera program as a remedy in order to achieve substantial compliance under our settlement agreement. As it has also been publicly reported, body worn cameras are being discussed as part of the contract negotiations with the Portland Police Association. I cannot publicly comment about union bargaining while that process is ongoing.
"Given that the issue of body worn cameras is being raised by the Department of Justice, it is important that I, as Police Commissioner, take steps immediately to lay the groundwork for a body worn camera program in the event the City Council ultimately approves such a program consistent with any bargaining obligations.
"Accordingly, I have directed the Police Bureau to begin researching equipment options and bids from vendors, while also pursuing possible grant funding opportunities to help pay for a body worn camera program.
"As we embark on this project, I encourage Portlanders to contact my office by email, email@example.com, regarding their questions and thoughts on police body worn cameras.
"Adding body worn cameras can benefit all of us by increasing the transparency of police work. We are laying the groundwork now to make this a real option. I am committed to working cooperatively with the Department of Justice to achieve substantial compliance under our settlement agreement and to bargaining in good faith with the Portland Police Association on these issues."
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.