In Portland’s Impasse Over Body-Worn Cameras, Sticking Point Remains Pre-Review by Cops

A decade of failed negotiations between the city and the police union mean that Portland is still the only major city whose police force is without body-worn cameras.

The city of Portland and the Portland Police Association have, once again, come to a familiar sticking point over the use of body-worn cameras: pre-review of video footage by cops.

Portland is the only major city whose police force doesn’t use body-worn cameras, a mechanism to hold police accountable for misconduct.

On Friday, the two parties released their final offers. There was no middle ground. The police union wants officers to be able to review the camera footage in instances of potential excessive force before they write reports, and city attorneys have argued that pre-review by cops could negate the intended effect, which is holding cops to a higher standard of accountability.

Related: Should Portland police officers be allowed to pre-review body camera footage before writing reports? We asked candidates for office.

Critics also argue that pre-review would allow officers the ability to justify their actions in written reviews if they’re armed with hindsight. Most crucially, the U.S. Department of Justice, which has championed the cameras as it monitors a settlement for a “pattern and practice” of using force against people with mental illness, also looks askance at officers getting an early peek at the footage.

Union president Sgt. Aaron Schmautz tells WW that the union is asking for what most other major police departments have asked for: the ability to write incident reports after reviewing the camera footage.

“The idea that the PPA is demanding something is frustrating because the position that the PPA has taken on the topic has been consistent for well over 10 years, and is consistent with every agency in Oregon, and the vast majority of agencies around the country,” Schmautz said. “The position that has been taken by the city and the DOJ is, in fact, the outlier. After months of bargaining I do not have an understanding of what science or data supports the idea that officers using video evidence to comprehensively prepare a report is problematic.”

Schmautz added: “We are seeking best practice. That should be what we all aspire towards.”

The newest city commissioner, Rene Gonzalez, tells WW he wouldn’t “die on my sword either way....I wanted body cameras on Portland police five years ago.”

The two final offers now head to an arbitrator for a decision. That process could take more than six months. Still, that may not end the saga. If the arbitrator sides with the police union, the DOJ could refuse to sign off on the policy change.

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