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January 5th, 2011 JAMES PITKIN | News Stories
 

Taser Watch

Watchdog requests for cop cameras came before a recent rash of police shootings.

     
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On Nov. 30, defense attorney Chris O’Connor met with members of the city’s police Citizen Review Committee to push for a simple step he says would increase cops’ accountability and help the public understand why they use force on duty.

He has yet to get a response. And five weeks later, the city is reeling from four officer-involved shootings since mid-December in which two men have died.

The most recent came Jan. 2, when cops in Southeast Portland Tasered and then fatally shot a 60-year-old man who police say refused to drop a knife as officers approached him.

O’Connor’s Nov. 30 suggestion to police review officials was to note that Taser sells a $500 camera that mounts onto its stun guns. It automatically records up to 90 minutes of audio and video whenever the gun’s safety is off.

Taser’s website says the cameras increase accountability “not just for officers but for the people they arrest” and have cut complaints against police up to 50 percent in cities where they’re used.

O’Connor, a board member of the Mental Health Association of Portland, urged the Citizens Review Committee’s Taser/Less Lethal Force Work Group to look at buying such cameras as it reviews the Police Bureau’s rules on Tasers.

He says the cameras’ absence here is an ongoing concern for the defense bar.

“In the next year it’s going to be the big issue—why don’t they use an existing technology that would answer all of these questions?” O’Connor says.

Police in West Melbourne, Fla., released Taser footage on YouTube last year to show a cop was justified in stunning a naked jogger. After the recent Portland shootings, such disclosures could serve to calm citizens—assuming the facts of the shootings match how police described them.

Portland cops tested the cameras several years ago but decided not to buy them because of technical issues, such as the fact they film only after the safety is off, says Lt. Kelli Sheffer, a Portland police spokeswoman.“The most critical time to film what’s happening is before the Taser is deployed,” Sheffer says. “We wouldn’t want officers to point a Taser at somebody with the safety off just to film.”

The topic came up in last year’s budget discussions, says Roy Kaufmann, a spokesman for Mayor Sam Adams, who oversees the Police Bureau. “It’s fair to anticipate that the topic will resurface in the coming budget preparation, though it’s too early to speculate on a particular technology or the scope of such a program,” Kaufmann says in an email.

In the other three recent shootings:

  • An officer discharged his weapon Jan. 1, police said, while questioning people about the killing of a bouncer earlier that day at Club 915 downtown.

  • Officers shot 34-year-old Marcus Lagozzino on Dec. 27 after trying to Taser him. Police say Lagozzino, recovering in a local hospital, was wielding a machete outside his parents’ Southwest Portland home.

  • Officers responded Dec. 17 to reports of threats at an east Portland apartment complex and fatally shot 45-year-old Darryel Ferguson. Police say they found a replica handgun at the scene.

FACT: In the wake of the shootings, state Rep. Lew Frederick (D-North/Northeast Portland) says he still plans to introduce four bills when the 2011 Legislature begins next week to beef up police training and oversight statewide (see “32 Shots, One Plan,” WW, June 2, 2010).
 
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