Portland Mayor Wants $2 Million From Feds for Body Cameras to Offset Costs for County Prosecutors and Public Defenders

In the fall, City Council approved $2.6 million in one-time funding to buy about 600 cameras.

The Portland City Council will vote Wednesday whether to authorize a grant application requesting $2 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the purchase of body-worn cameras for Portland Police Bureau officers.

In the fall, City Council approved $2.6 million in one-time funding to buy about 600 cameras. But now, former Mayor Sam Adams, a top adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler, tells WW that a to-be-determined amount of that fall funding will be allocated to offset costs in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, as well as the Public Defenders’ Office, whose staff will eventually review body-worn camera footage in criminal cases.

Money awarded by the feds—upwards of $2 million—would pay for the body cameras themselves. The excess, Adams says, would help the city “make good on our promise” to offset costs for the county that are generated by body-worn camera footage.

The details of how exactly the mayor’s office arrived at this plan are unclear. But it’s not completely surprising given the increased media attention that staffing issues in the county and state court systems have garnered in recent weeks.

Last month, both the DA’s Office and the state’s Office of Public Defense Services warned of unprecedented staffing shortages. And last Sunday, District Attorney Mike Schmidt penned an op-ed in The Oregonian about the issue.

Two days later, during an interview with WW, Wheeler said he learned about this “chronic shortage” from Schmidt’s op-ed.

“I was really surprised to see how the shortage of public defenders is having a major impact on the prosecution of those who engaged in very serious criminal activity. That surprised me,” Wheeler said. “Everybody who is accused is entitled to a public defense. And if there are no public defenders—what the District Attorney said in his op-ed the other day was that judges throw the cases out, because people are entitled to a defense.”

The city plans to begin the competitive solicitation process for body-worn cameras this spring, according to budget documents, followed by a program launch in the upcoming fiscal year.

Doing so will help the city get back in compliance with its 2014 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. During mediation in the fall, the DOJ included the launch of a body-worn camera program in its list of remedies for Portland to regain compliance with the agreement.