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Portland city council prepares draft request for police body camera proposals

The council began debating a motion to issue a request for proposals from camera providers, but won't formally vote on it until next month.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland City Council is gradually moving to establish a body-worn camera program for the city's police officers, but city officials cautioned this week that it will likely be two years before the program is fully established.

The council took a first step toward a pilot camera program on Wednesday when it reviewed a draft Request for Proposals from vendors, although a formal vote to move forward with the RFP won't happen until the council's Feb. 9 meeting at the earliest.

The motion would use $2.6 million set aside during the city's fall budget adjustment to fund the purchase of 173 cameras for the pilot program, but it would not establish any specific policies governing the use of the cameras. 

Those policies are anticipated to be developed later this year, according to Mayor Ted Wheeler, before the planned launch of the two-month pilot program in August.

"This item is not about body-worn camera policies," Wheeler said at the start of Wednesday's meeting. "Today’s meeting is about procurement only.”

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Program manager Tammy Mayer outlined the plan for the pilot phase, which involves soliciting proposals from camera vendors and narrowing the responses down to the two or three best choices, then selecting a final choice based on in-person demonstrations tentatively planned for April.

The top vendor would be contracted to supply cameras to 173 officers for the pilot phase, including all patrol officers at the PPB's central precinct and members of the new gun violence Focused Intervention Team. 

Full implementation would require 636 cameras, she said, and assuming the pilot phase takes place on schedule, it will take until the end of 2023 to adjust policies, prepare equipment facilities and train officers in order to get the program fully implemented.

The RFP outlines 124 requirements for the cameras, Mayer said, including physical criteria such as battery life and the ability to clip onto multiple parts of a uniform as well as software criteria such as the ability to index recordings from multiple officers who were present during an incident.

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The decision to pursue camera procurement before setting camera use policies drew criticism from a half dozen members of the public who signed up to testify, all of whom urged the council to hold off on a procurement vote until after the city has established policies for the program.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty also expressed concern that the city's Technology Oversight Committee had not had enough input on the request for proposals.

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