PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — As part of an effort to increase community trust and transparency, the Milwaukie Police Department is implementing a body-worn camera program beginning this month.

Body-worn cameras are relatively small devices that record interactions between police and community members. These video and audio recordings are intended to document statements, observations, behaviors and other evidence, and to deter unprofessional, illegal and inappropriate behaviors by both law enforcement and the community.

Milwaukie officials decided to adopt the program in September 2021, with support from both citizens and the Milwaukie Police Employees Association. For just under $100,000, using funds already in the MPD budget, the city signed a five-year contract with Motorola for all equipment, training, storage and technology upgrades halfway through the contract.

Body cameras are now required for uniformed patrol officers and sergeants who regularly respond to calls for service, conduct traffic enforcement and take enforcement actions. Milwaukie police officers turn on their cameras when responding to a call, conducting a traffic stop, conducting a search, transporting someone in their vehicle, and when involved in a pursuit or an interview.

Milwaukie officers also are expected to turn on their cameras when they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a person they are about to contact has committed or is about to commit a crime/violation.

Police officers are prohibited from editing, altering, erasing, duplicating, copying or distributing body-camera images and information. Software systems will not allow editing, and the video data is electronically timestamped whenever it is accessed.

Milwaukie officials said that police officers are required to announce that a recording is occurring at the beginning of interactions, unless the announcement cannot be made without jeopardizing officer safety, the safety of any other person or impairing a criminal investigation.

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In locations where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a residence, you may request that an officer not record. Officers have no obligation to stop recording in response to your request if the recording involves an investigation, arrest or lawful search.

Officers have the discretion to turn off cameras in certain situations, such as a conversation with a victim if the victim does not want to be recorded. Body-worn cameras generally will be turned off if the officer’s camera would record a patient during a medical or psychological evaluation, unless the officer is responding to a call involving a suspect who is thought to be present in the medical facility.

Oregon law requires that all faces contained in a video recording must be blurred to make them unidentifiable prior to public release. This redaction of public records requests for video must be for an event for which the “public interest requires disclosure.”

While police enforcement activity is almost always in the public interest to disclose, the request should be for an approximate time or event and tailored to the relevant video. Video evidence also would be provided to the district attorney and city attorney.

Oregon law expressly prohibits the use of facial recognition or other biometric-match technology to analyze recordings obtained through the use of cameras to obtain evidence or search for suspects.

Milwaukie officials plan regularly scheduled random audits to verify that body-worn cameras are being used consistent with policy. Intentional unauthorized video editing or alteration would be a serious policy violation, which could result in discipline up to and including termination.

Limits on recordings, evidence

While body-worn cameras can be a useful to provide a unique perspective and additional information on police encounters, Milwaukie officials acknowledged the following limitations to the technology:

• A camera doesn’t follow officers’ eyes or see exactly as they see. It’s a small, portable camera attached to the chest area of an officer, who is almost constantly moving, which affects the quality of the video.

• Some important danger cues can’t be caught or recorded by a video camera.

• Camera speed differs from the speed of life.

• A camera may “see” different than a human does in various lighting situations.

• An officer’s arms or other objects can inadvertently block the view from the camera at times.

• A camera produces a two-dimensional recording.

• One camera alone may not provide sufficient clarifying information to be helpful in an incident.

• A camera can cause officers to second-guess themselves.

• A camera can only augment but cannot replace a thorough investigation or thorough, detailed police report.