PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland police “gathered and stored information about political activity without documenting criminal suspicion,” according to a new audit released by City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero.
The audit focuses on 2 things: whether PPB members infringed on protesters’ civil liberties and how the bureau used surveillance technology. It claims the bureau did not give its members any guidance on what information they could collect during the ongoing protests and riots of 2020, leading to some officers taking and storing pictures and videos or protesters without legal or criminal reason — and for longer than needed.
Officers collected personally identifiable information about protesters without suspecting them of any crimes, the audit states.
A random sample of 40 police reports found 5 examples of officers keeping information on protesters without any criminal suspicion, a possible infringement on the 1st Amendment’s right to assembly.
The audit looked into inappropriate surveillance, ranging from license plate readers and cell phone data extraction to facial recognition technology.
These videos were released by the Portland City Auditor’s Office
- Video from Portland Police Air Support from protest-related activity in downtown Portland, May 31, 2020
- Video from Portland Police Air Support, March 27, 2021
- Video from Portland Police Air Support, May 5, 2021
The 4th Amendment restricts how law enforcement collects information without probable cause of a crime. That could include searches of social media, which the bureau did not receive any guidance on how to conduct those.
From a sample of 25 instances in which police used social media surrounding the 2020 protests, only 7 instances were appropriately documented and searched or stored under suspicion of a crime.
Five remedies were suggested by the Portland City Auditor to help regain the trust of Portlanders:
- Giving guidance on how to collect information without infringing on the 1st Amendment
- Limit access to political and social information not associated with criminal activity
- Adopt a directive on how to use surveillance technology
- Add more guidance on how to investigate social media posts
- Publish how the bureau is gathering surveillance
“Intelligence gathering and surveillance is by its nature an activity that the public doesn’t know much about.” Hull Caballero said in a statement. “However, more transparency through policies, procedures, and reporting will improve accountability and build trust.”
Response from Mayor Wheeler, PPB Chief Lovell
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, said, in part, “My team and I will work with PPB to enact all 5 of the audit recommendations, four in full and one in part.”
But the mayor did not say which of the recommendations would only be partly enacted.
PPB Chief Chuck Lovell’s office also issued a response to the audit. They also said they would enact the recommendations, some in part.
Lovell’s office gave its own perspective on the audit, arguing that searching social media posts does not violate the 4th Amendment. They suggest an online search could be viewed as more of a query than the searching that would require a search warrant, for example.
But they did say “the Portland Police Bureau is in the process of implementing several of the recommendations provided by your office as we continue to improve our transparency and trust building.”