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Portland, Ore., Police Roll Out Body Cameras This Summer

The devices came online Monday in the city’s Central Precinct. Plans are for all patrol officers to be wearing them by the end of July. They will turn on automatically when cars’ emergency lights come on, or when guns or stun guns are drawn.

Axon body camera on a police officer
Axon
(TNS) — Central Precinct officers on Monday grabbed body cameras and attached them to their uniforms as they began their shifts, marking the start of the summer rollout of the cameras to officers in the bureau’s three precincts and speciality teams.

By the end of August, officers throughout patrol will be equipped with the cameras, making the Portland Police Bureau the last of the nation’s largest municipal agencies to fully adopt the technology.

North Precinct’s patrol officers are scheduled to start wearing them on July 15 and East Precinct patrol officers in August, according to the bureau. The rollout follows a 60-day pilot program that ended last October.

The bureau installed needed recording and storage hardware in all of its three precincts, its training center and the Penumbra Kelly Building, where a few police specialty units are based, according to city attorneys and Justice Department lawyers. They made the comments last month as they updated the judge who is overseeing the Police Bureau’s compliance with a federal settlement over excessive force used by officers.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon a decade ago recommended the city equip officers with body cameras for accountability.

The City Council voted in December to approve up to $10 million to buy and operate the camera program over five years through Axon Enterprises.

The city and the Justice Department are still in talks over access to the camera records. The federal department wants immediate access to the recordings through evidence.com. The Justice Department also wants a court-appointed independent monitoring team to have immediate access to the footage.

Under a policy approved by the City Council in April 2023, the cameras will automatically activate when police officers turn on their car’s overhead emergency lights, take out their stun guns or draw their guns. They’re required to manually turn on the cameras when they’re dispatched to calls, engaging with people during protests, pulling someone over in a car or stopping a pedestrian, conducting searches of cars or people and conducting certain in-custody interviews of juveniles. They must not film inside a medical facility or during interviews of sexual assault victims unless the person agrees to it.

A negotiated policy also sets out different requirements on when officers can view the footage based on the level of force they used and whether an officer used force or witnessed the force.

Under the agreement, officers who use deadly force cannot view their camera video until after they provide internal affairs investigators with an audio-recorded initial statement within 48 hours. This will apply to police who fire their guns, use neck holds or strike someone in the head, neck or throat with a hard object and when someone dies in their custody.

During that statement, officers must describe the call, what they observed, the threat they faced, any warnings or de-escalation tactics they used, the force used and if they provided medical aid.

Internal affairs investigators also won’t be allowed to view the camera footage before the initial statement by the officer who used force. The internal affairs investigators, however, can view the camera footage of officers who witnessed the force before interviewing them.

After an initial statement, there will be a break in the internal affairs interview, allowing the investigators and the officer involved and the officer’s lawyer to view the involved officer’s camera footage separately.

“Within a reasonable time,” the policy says, internal investigators can continue with the recorded interview and ask the officer to clarify any discrepancies between the initial statement and what the camera footage shows.

Officers cannot face discipline for any allegation of wrongdoing based on a difference or discrepancy between the initial statement and what the footage shows unless the city can prove the officer was being dishonest or trying to deceive investigators, according to a letter of agreement reached with the union.

Under the policy, supervisors can review body camera footage in reference to a complaint or as part of an after-action review of an officer’s use of force, and in addition, “shall review” three body worn camera events of each officer for annual performance evaluations.

The Justice Department previously expressed concern that the body camera policy appeared to limit supervisors to review only three body camera recordings a year and didn’t allow a supervisor to view live video feeds from officers’ cameras.

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