FOR YEARS, Police Chief Mike Reese has dreamed of outfitting every police cruiser with a dashboard camera—to produce audiovisual records of police encounters for court cases or, when needed, to ferret out the truth in misconduct claims.
Almost a year after the police bureau received $800,000 to expand a car-camera pilot program—enough for 50 or so cameras—none of that money has been spent. And now Mayor Charlie Hales, the city's police commissioner, has another idea.
Echoing the clamor of the federal judge who approved the city's police reform settlement last month, Hales now wants to put cameras directly on officers' lapels.
Portland's already experimented with the body-mounted devices, putting them on traffic officers, officials say. But by going even further, Portland would follow cities across the country who see the new technology as a way to build trust among citizens, while hopefully reducing the amount of force police use in otherwise routine encounters.
Hales' office says the police bureau will release a report—"soon"— examining how much body cameras might cost, how the bureau would deal with privacy issues related to recordings, and also how the bureau might pay for other ongoing requirements, like paying someone to run the camera program and paying for space to store all the data. The Oregonian first reported Hales' interest this month.
"We want to spend a little time thinking about [all] that," says Dana Haynes, Hales' spokesman.
Haynes says the mayor expects to spend the money already allocated for cameras instead of pushing new spending.
But not all accountability advocates are terribly excited. Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch says Oregon law sets strict limits on how long and whether police can retain recordings of people who aren't suspected of crimes.
Nor, he says, should cameras preclude other policy changes meant to promote discipline and ease the use of force.
"Having cops wear body cameras," he says, "is not the be all and end all of accountability."