The time has come for the Portland City Council to approve the use of body video cameras on all Portland Police officers. The ineffectiveness of Portland Police review boards and internal affairs investigations have created a system where Portland Police officers can ignore their responsibilities as peacekeepers and civil servants. This allows officers to abuse citizens with no repercussions. Body cameras on officers may finally be the tool necessary to keep officers from assaulting tax-paying citizens, eliminating the he-said, she-said debate in which jurors give deference to police officers.
Since Kafoury & McDougal won the 2 largest jury verdicts ever against the City of Portland, and have reached the largest settlement with the City for police misconduct, all in the last two years, the subject of body video cameras on police officers has been moved to the forefront. Multnomah County juries hit the City for $562,000 for the Jason Cox case, $306,000 for the Gallagher Smith case and the City paid a $9.2 million settlement in the Cayla Wilson case. All of these cases shared a common theme: Jurors had to decide between the word of the police against the word of the citizens involved, a problem that may no longer be a roadblock for lawsuits brought against the City if the Portland Police are required to use body cameras.
Police departments around the country have begun adopting policies requiring officers to wear body cameras, and the results have been encouraging. In Rialto, CA, the police department has seen a sharp decline in both complaints against officers, and use of force reports filed by officers. Since February 2012, complaints filed against officers have dropped 88%, while use of force reports have dropped almost 60%. In Portland, federal judge Michael Simon, in his adoption of the U.S. Department of Justice’s findings that call for police reform, wrote in favor of body cameras on Portland Police officers. Mayor Charlie Hales has also been outspoken about his support for body cameras on Portland Police officers. Read more on Mayor Hales’ opinion and judge Simon’s ruling here.
A thoughtful body camera program for Portland Police officers requires debate before implementation. Citizen’s civil liberties may be violated by the use of such cameras; invasions of privacy are a concern along with the possibility of police officers, administrators or others leaking the video content online or to news sources as a tactic to dissuade lawsuits against the police. Other questions that need to be addressed: Will police be able to turn their cameras on and off? Who will have access to the video content? How much storage space will be needed to store all the video content? And how secure will that information be? Will the public be allowed access to the video content? If so, how will that process work? All of these questions must be considered and debated before a policy can be implemented that requires officers to wear body cameras. Read more on the ACLU’s opinion on police body cameras here.
Update: Here’s a video interview I did with Colin O’Keefe of LXBN on the subject.