PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland Police President Aaron Schmautz says there’s been a culture change in Portland policing — from the way officers are held accountable to how they deal with the city’s drug crisis after voters approved Measure 110.
On Aug. 21, the Portland Police Bureau launched a two-month body camera pilot program — making Portland one of the last major cities in the United States to implement the practice.
During the pilot, 150 officers in the Central Precinct and the Focused Intervention Team will be wearing body cameras around the city. The pilot will determine the rules going forward for body cameras in Portland and what it means as an oversight tool for police.
Policy states that officers will need to activate cameras when they’re conducting any kind of police work with any member of the public and will automatically activate if they get a call, turn on lights and sirens or pull a taser or gun.
Portland Police Association President Aaron Schmautz told KOIN 6 News the pilot is “going as well as a pilot would.”
“It’s a huge change culturally, especially for officers who have been on the street for 20 years, adding another kind of muscle memory reality, turning things on, turning things off, explaining to people what you’re doing. And I think for Portlanders too, just you know in my experience, people always kind of thought we were recording everything, but we weren’t and so now, just adding in that kind of, ‘Hey, you’re being recorded,’ I think just kind of culturally changes those interactions a little bit,” Schmautz explained.
According to the Portland police union president, “generally, when you’re interacting with a police officer the camera will be on.”
“If you’re interacting with a police officer and just kind of having a friendly conversation, we won’t be recording that. What we’re looking for is recording police action and exercise of our authority,” Schmautz said.
Body cameras might not be used in sensitive investigations, death notifications or sexual assault investigations, Schmautz explained — noting police will follow state and federal laws for sensitive investigations and will use trauma-informed practices.
“We want to make sure that we’re not putting people in a situation where they don’t feel comfortable talking to law enforcement about a sensitive matter,” Schmautz said.
According to Schmautz, the public can access camera recordings through the Portland police records division — however some sensitive investigations involving homicide or child abuse may have different access.
He added that officers will also have access to their recordings.
“Police officers can access their body cameras as they’re investigating their own actions and also other body cameras if they’re doing follow up on an investigation, maybe trying to figure out how to move forward with a case,” Schmautz explained. “Supervisors can access cameras if they’re doing an investigation based on some kind of information that has come in to make sure that our officers are held accountable for their behavior when they’re on duty.”
Schmautz says the officers need to work on “little things” like knowing when to turn cameras on.
“For instance, right now officers are turning their cameras on when they’re dispatched so, they’re videotaping maybe a 30-minute drive in traffic and obviously that storage can cost a lot of money so, we’re wanting to sort out that,” Schmautz said.
Police will need real-time access to the video, Schmautz said, to avoid delays in investigations and in cases where several officers are on scene and hours of footage needs to be viewed.
Under the pilot, officers can view their footage before issuing their report.
“In all cases, other than force, they will be able to utilize their camera just like any notes they take. In low-level force incidents, just kind of the most basic physical interactions our officers have with people, they’ll have access to that video and that’s commensurate with best practice in our country,” Schmautz said.
However, in critical cases, including deadly force, Schmautz says officers won’t be able to review footage until they’ve given a statement to their sergeant.
Schmautz explains Portland police are experiencing another culture change after voters approved Measure 110, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs, in favor of bolstering drug addiction treatment and resources in the state.
“Fentanyl is a game changer as it relates to addiction because it is just so deadly. It’s hard to state how deadly it is. It is in everything, we’re finding it in all kinds of other narcotics, and it kills people, it kills kids,” Schmautz said.
“It’s critical that we have the ability to navigate that reality. We need to have access to Narcan, access to people on the street to make sure that they are not dying before they get to treatment,” he added. “Having tools for law enforcement to address fentanyl use — obviously any drug use, any public air usage of narcotics has an impact on our community safety and the kind of perspective of safety in our community – but officers having the ability when they see someone using fentanyl to go and interact with that individual to detain them and make sure that they’re getting the care that they need is important.”
Schmautz furthered, “I’ve said it a million times, law enforcement will never be the panacea to solve the addiction issue. We’ll never arrest our way out of this issue, but we have to keep people alive, and we have to make sure that we’re not having the unintended consequence of other people having to navigate this kind of fentanyl blight in our society.”
Amid public safety concerns around the drug crisis, he says the state needed more addiction resources in place before Measure was implemented.
“The greatest problem with [Measure 110] is that it was an idea that was then manifested without any preparation. And so, overnight we saw a complete culture change around addiction, and it increased the reality of drugs in our community and officers don’t have the tools to abate acute drug issues in our community. If you have someone who is high in the community, we don’t have detox, we don’t have the ability to stop and detain that person simply for being high,” Schmautz said.
“The other challenge again, is that addiction is truly a health issue and so other than the outgrowth of criminal behavior as a result of it, our officers aren’t well situated to address those issues. But we need partnership with other groups to ensure that our officers have the ability to take those touch pints we have and make them meaningful.”
He added, “we saw in Measure 110, my belief, is a kind of spiritual agreement or thought that police are the wrong vehicle to navigate the addiction issue, but then we also asked police officers to be that vehicle by being the people who issued the citations, which it creates cognitive dissonance, so we need to have partnerships, we need to understand what law enforcement is in this kind of addiction space and how we make sure the people who are experiencing addiction get to the right help.”