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Majority of community members surveyed don’t want Portland police watching body camera videos before writing reports

46% also said videos of police use of deadly force should be made public immediately after it’s determined they won’t jeopardize an investigation


A Portland police officer heads down the street while looking for a man who is alleged to have pulled a handgun on a Portland State University security officer in Portland, Ore., Monday, June 11, 2012.

AP Photo/Don Ryan

By Maxine Bernstein

PORTLAND, Ore. — More than half, or 52%, 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% 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.

City-hired consultants Rosenbaum & Associates released the survey results Wednesday as the city continues to negotiate a policy governing body camera use with the police union.

The city was unable to reach an agreement on a policy during negotiations with the police union on a new four-year contract, which the City Council approved last month.

The City Council gave staff the green light to seek competitive bids for a pilot police body-worn camera program after approving an amendment last month that ensures any contract signed won’t conflict with a future policy the city adopts to govern the use of body cameras. The city has set aside up to $2.6 million for a two-month pilot project.

The survey was conducted online from Jan. 14 through Jan. 31. The consultants, who are tasked with overseeing the city’s policing reforms required under a 2014 federal settlement agreement stemming from police use of excessive force, shared the survey link with more than 28 community organizations in Portland, including city advisory groups and social service agencies. Of the 2,110 people who completed the survey, roughly 22% were non-white.

The majority’s position that they don’t want police to view body camera videos before providing accounts of what occurred is consistent with U.S. Supreme Court case law, according to the consultants.

The high court’s “Graham” standard, from the 1989 Graham v. Connor ruling, says an officer’s decision to use force should be “objectively reasonable” under the “totality of circumstances,” the consultants noted.

Rosenbaum argues that the U.S. Supreme Court standard “prohibits 20/20 hindsight,” and that an officer’s use of force must be evaluated based on what the officer knew at the time force was used and any knowledge “gained after” the incident should not be considered.

As the U.S. Department of Justice has recommended, the city-hired consultants also suggest an officer write a force report before viewing body camera videos. The officer could then prepare a supplemental report after viewing the footage to reconcile any differences between the two.

[MORE: DOJ lawyers, Portland police union president discuss best practices for body cameras]

Unless there are discrepancies that clearly suggest an officer was lying or engaged in blatant misconduct, the consultants recommend that those discrepancies and the videos be used for coaching or training, their report said.

Sgt. Aaron Schmautz, president of the Portland Police Association, wants officers to have the ability to view body camera videos before writing reports or answering investigators’ questions.

He has argued that allowing officers to view the footage beforehand would permit them to consider all the evidence and write the most accurate and thorough report of what occurred.

Equipping officers with body cameras is one of the nine requirements that the U.S. Department of Justice has demanded the city take to return to compliance with its 2014 settlement agreement over police use of excessive force.

Among other survey findings:

  • About 84% of those surveyed agreed that any faces of people caught on body camera video from a police deadly force encounter should be blurred to protect their privacy.
  • 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. The other 15% said the supervisor shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

The consultants crafted the survey and tracked its results.

They also advise the city to seek the most advanced body camera technology and experiment with new software that would allow police supervisors to view officers’ videos in real-time to help track or identify troubling interactions between officers and the public.

The city also should have a system in place to monitor the initial use of the cameras, with regular audits and supervision, the consultants said.

“Simply put, the acquisition, implementation, and evaluation of (body-worn cameras) will require a comprehensive policy, officer training, on-the-job learning, supervision, and accountability,” their report said.

The Police Bureau’s pilot program would equip 173 officers with cameras to test how the cameras function. Officers from Central Precinct and the new Focused Intervention Team — 12 uniformed officers and two sergeants assigned to target gun violence — would participate in the pilot, according to Tammy Mayer, a senior program manager for the Police Bureau. She said she’s hoping a pilot program can get underway in August and September.

The eventual goal is to outfit 636 officers with cameras. That figure includes all patrol officers and some specialty police teams, with an extra bank of cameras available for other teams that will be out on the street.

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