2/5/23 News Update


The O has an editorial:

<<You would never know about the lethal violence inflicted on Tyre Nichols from reading the police report filed after Memphis officers brutalized the 29-year-old man. According to news accounts, the report does not mention officers kicking Nichols in the face, nor does it acknowledge the multiple times they punched him.

In fact, we only know what happened to Nichols on Jan. 7 because video from cameras in the neighborhood and worn by the officers themselves captured the inhuman abuse that led to his death three days later. The release of the video last month has left the Memphis community – and the country – grieving and fuming. But that footage also provides a small measure of solace, by ensuring that the officers’ word about what happened is not the last word.

Portlanders, however, should feel more disquieted than ever. Portland remains the only city among the country’s 75 largest that does not equip officers with body-worn cameras, The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein reported. Despite a federal justice department requirement last year that Portland Police adopt the technology as part of a larger police-reforms settlement, the city and the police union have not reached an agreement on the policies to guide camera usage. The key sticking point is the police union’s insistence that officers be allowed to watch body camera footage before filing a report or answering investigator questions about using deadly force against someone.

As demoralizing as this long wait for body cameras has been, the city should not buckle. Body cameras are an accountability tool, and the city should not agree to policies that undermine their effectiveness. If the city is unable to secure this provision in mediation or potentially, arbitration, the U.S. Department of Justice should exercise its right to reject the policy.

Body cameras are hardly a new idea in Portland. Former Mayor Charlie Hales proposed adopting the technology for Portland Police in 2014 after a federal judge suggested it and the city has since authorized funding for a pilot project. But the city’s attorneys and the Portland Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, remain in mediation over the policy, despite the DOJ’s expectation that the program be in place by last November.

Importantly, the DOJ has already made clear to the city and the union that it believes officers who use deadly force should not view body camera footage before filing their initial report or giving an internal interview. The DOJ argues that officers can view the footage after filing that initial report and submit a supplementary filing if necessary.

Granted, most other police bureaus allow the viewing of footage prior to giving a statement. And as Bernstein reported, Portland union president Aaron Schmautz pointed to a law enforcement nonprofit report recommending that practice. The report notes that “the goal is to find the truth, which is facilitated by letting officers have all possible evidence of the event.”

But there are many reasons why this recommendation does not hold for Portland. For one thing, best practices do and should evolve over time.

Some cities have opted to not allow officers the ability to view footage before submitting reports to ensure they are getting the officer’s uninfluenced perspective. Portland is operating under a federal settlement over its police officers’ use-of-force – their violations are the reason the city must adopt this change, justifying a higher standard. And if officers have engaged in misconduct, it makes no sense to give them all the evidence so that they can massage their story to fit what the camera did or didn’t capture.

Keep in mind that filing police reports without the help of body camera footage is already the norm. This would not be a different protocol.

But perhaps the biggest flaw in the argument for allowing viewing of footage is that the “truth” does not come from a single source. You don’t get a comprehensive picture of what happened by just getting an officer’s narrative, much less one that’s been crafted to match other evidence. Truth comes from piecing together the many elements that collectively lead to an outcome, including the state of mind of the officer – the observations, perceptions and decisions that unfolded in real-time. Those observations may not be completely “accurate” in the sense of how they square with the slow-motion replay of a zoomed-in frame; but they are accurate in that they reflect the human factor that drives any such interaction.

Examining body camera footage in cases where police use deadly force isn’t just about uncovering misconduct, but can also point to weaknesses in training or communication that lead to mistakes. But we need a full picture and untainted perspectives of how incidents unfold in order to know where those flaws are.

Body cameras won’t prevent police brutality. They won’t guarantee accountability. And the ability to view footage before filing a report is only one practice among many that can undermine the effectiveness of cameras. But Portland’s inability so far to secure this modest tool shows how far our community and our police have to go to rebuild trust and move forward as partners. While we hope the union will change its stance, we need our city leaders and the justice department to speak for all Portlanders and ensure that on accountability measures, the public has the last word.>>



<<City officials received reports of alleged “aggressive behavior” during Portland’s municipal strike Thursday, which brought hundreds of public employees to the city’s parks, transportation and environmental services bureaus with picket signs in hand.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he and others received reports of illegal and violent activity at the beginning of the protest.

“While I support the rights of employees to exercise their right to strike legally, aggressive behavior and intimidation of any form is absolutely unacceptable,” Wheeler said in a statement Thursday.

City spokesperson Carrie Belding, who is compiling information on the strike, said there have been reports from city employees of protesters throwing rocks, hitting vehicles with sticks and “reports of physical harm.”

James O’Laughlen, a representative of Laborers’ Local 483, refuted those claims, saying that none of the rumors of the alleged aggressive activity have been confirmed.

“Tensions were high that first day, but we saw no violence,” O’Laughlen said. “Our people have been acting lawfully, peacefully and respectfully.”

O’Laughlen also said there have been reports of city employees “attacking our members with their vehicles.”

About 615 union members spread across the city Thursday, including workers who repair streets and maintain public trash cans, remove garbage and syringes from city parks, and oversee wastewater treatment plants.

The city and union have been unable to agree on a new contract after months of negotiations due to disagreements over cost-of-living increases amid rising inflation and workplace safety concerns.

Negotiations resumed Saturday, following two days of protests.>>