PORTLAND, Ore — Portland city leaders are reluctant to equip police officers with body-worn cameras because of funding concerns and questions about their effectiveness.
KGW asked every city commissioner and the mayor if they supported body-worn cameras. The responses were mixed.
The inquiry followed a KGW investigation that found of the 75 largest municipal law enforcement agencies in the country, Portland was the only police department that doesn’t use body-worn cameras.
The Portland Police Bureau and the union representing officers in Portland have both advocated for body-worn cameras.
According to his spokesperson, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler supports police body cameras because they improve transparency, help investigations and hold police and criminals accountable. Wheeler delayed plans for a body camera pilot program last year because of city budget constraints due to the pandemic.
“We’re focused on recovering, and the budget is tight, but the Mayor intends to revisit the use of body cameras when financial conditions permit,” said Tim Becker, spokesperson for Wheeler.
Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps were interested in learning more about body cameras but were not willing to make any commitments.
“I think that body cameras are worth looking into and I’m interested in having discussions with our public safety partners about them,” said Mapps, who also hoped to speak with the district attorney and ACLU about the issue.
In a statement, Ryan said he wanted more information about the costs of police body cameras and other considerations.
The Portland Police Bureau estimates it will cost roughly $2.9 million to get a body-worn camera program up and running, with ongoing costs of about $1.8 million a year.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio explained body cameras are not among the city’s highest priorities. “Additionally, our state and local laws of transparency and accountability would first need to be updated to ensure the effectiveness of body-worn cameras at eliminating or prosecuting officer-involved shootings,” Rubio said in a statement.
The strongest critic of police body-worn cameras was Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has previously called to defund police body cameras.
“I am reluctant to make an expensive investment in body-worn cameras because they have failed to provide accountability to other police departments and have not reduced police use of force,” Hardesty said in a statement.
Hardesty pointed to research compiled by Campaign Zero, an organization dedicated to ending police brutality. Campaign Zero has cautioned cities against adopting new body camera programs.
“There was this idea that the presence of body cameras would decrease officer-involved shootings and officer use of force and that actually just hasn’t borne out,” explained DeRay McKesson, a co-founder of Campaign Zero.
McKesson explained the effects of body-worn cameras are likely smaller than many had hoped.
“Cameras are not the panacea. Cameras won’t be the silver bullet,” said McKesson. “The rest of the system has to change and move too.”
Hardesty said if Portland does move forward with body-worn cameras, the money needs to come from the existing police budget. Additionally, Hardesty wants to make sure the new police oversight board has access to all footage and that officers are required to record all law enforcement interactions without the discretion to turn the cameras off.