Should Portland Police Officers Be Allowed to Review Body Camera Footage Before Writing Reports?

We asked City Council candidates for Jo Ann Hardesty’s seat to weigh in.

Next week, the Portland City Council will decide whether to seek bids to supply the Police Bureau with body-worn cameras.

The vote is scheduled two weeks after a Jan. 26 council session where city commissioners heard public testimony by police critics and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which urged the city to delay the $2.6 million purchase until it has more clearly established rules for using the cameras.

Mayor Ted Wheeler tried to assuage opposition to the request for proposal process while also cautioning against inertia.

“I assure you that there is nothing that will happen quickly with regard to policy, and all of it has to come back to City Council before we settle on any policy related to body-worn cameras,” the mayor said. “That is my commitment to all of you. But I do encourage us to move forward on this RFP as expeditiously as possible.”

At that same meeting, the manager of the Police Bureau’s body-worn camera program presented a draft of the request for proposals. In response, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is seeking reelection in May, said the RFP’s language was reminiscent of the deal Mayor Charlie Hales struck in 2016 with the city’s police union, the Portland Police Association.

That agreement drew intense criticism, sparking protests at City Hall and outside Hales’ home, largely because city policy would have permitted officers to review body camera footage before writing their reports. The concept, known as “pre-review,” is one of the most contentious issues swirling around the cameras.

Ongoing mediation between the city and the PPA to reach a labor contract adds another layer of controversy. During the closed-door meetings between the police union and the City Attorney’s Office, it is likely the parties have tried to negotiate some elements of the body-worn camera policy since the PPA submitted its proposal for such a policy during closed-door bargaining last April.

The candidate who wins the race for Hardesty’s seat will have an influence over the city’s body-worn camera policies, including pre-review, privacy and data ownership.

For this Portland city commissioner race, we sent the same question to all candidates certified to run under the city’s Small Donor Elections program.

WW asked the candidates: “Should Portland Police Bureau officers be able to ‘pre-review’ body camera footage before writing reports—yes or no?”

Rene Gonzalez

“No. Policy should mandate reports contain two sections: first section for officers’ initial report prior to reviewing footage and a supplemental section to add comments following footage review.

“Camera use has a number of benefits: deters both false misconduct claims and officer misconduct; encourages transparency; and as a training tool. It is crucial Portland implements ASAP; let’s choose the best policy from the many currently in place nationally and refine as we go.”

Vadim Mozyrsky

“No. Officers should write reports before reviewing body worn camera footage, particularly in incidents involving deadly force. PPB should’ve been equipped with body-worn cameras years ago, like every other major city. Having served on Portland’s current police oversight committee, we often lack direct evidence of what occurred, and BWC footage would certainly help. Recently, I’ve organized public discussions of BWC policies with the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, Gresham Police, and Beaverton Police to ascertain best practices.”

Jo Ann Hardesty

“No. Allowing officers to pre-review footage undermines accountability. If police can pre-review footage, particularly on use-of-force claims, it will allow them to craft a narrative that best suits them. Additionally, it puts other witnesses at a disadvantage as they do not get to review this footage before providing a statement. I am committed to pursuing body cameras as a tool of police accountability and not as an instrument to insulate police from responsibility.”