By MALLORY GRUBEN
The Portland police union and the City of Portland last month agreed on a long-awaited body camera policy, averting the need for binding arbitration.
City council members on April 26 unanimously approved the policy, which was bargained by Portland Police Association (PPA) and city negotiators. It resolves an earlier conflict over when officers could review their own body cam footage, and it came just days ahead of a legal deadline to implement a policy.
“I think both the city and PPA felt pretty strongly that getting a deal that was a handshake agreement, as opposed to something that was adversarial, was really a vital piece of building trust internally and externally around the system,” PPA President Aaron Schmautz told the Labor Press.
Under the policy, officers can review their own body camera footage before writing incident reports or giving testimony, unless the case involved a serious injury or death. For instances involving serious injuries, the officer would complete a recorded “perceptual interview” with a trained investigator to recount what they remembered from the incident before either person watched the footage. Then, the officer could watch the video and finish the report as usual.
In cases involving death, shootings, or other life-threatening use of force, the officer and investigator would do the perceptual interview, separate to watch the footage, then reconvene to complete the interview and answer any questions raised by the video. The investigation would otherwise follow the bureau’s pre-existing policy on high-level use of force incidents.
The final policy differs from both of the proposals the parties sent to the state Employment Relations Board in February for arbitration. In those “best last offers,” PPA proposed full pre-review of footage for all instances, while the city set strict conditions around pre-review.
Had the PPA and the city not reached an agreement, an ERB arbitrator would have picked one of those proposals to bind the city to.
Although a huge chasm existed between the offers on paper, PPA and the city were closer to consensus in bargaining conversations, Schmautz said, so they agreed to continue talking to find a mutually beneficial resolution.
Portland was the last major U.S. city without a body camera policy. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon ordered the Portland Police Bureau to equip its officers with body cameras to improve police accountability. That order set an April 29 deadline to have a policy that earned U.S. Department of Justice approval.
Portland police will run a 60-day pilot of the policy with about 110 officers in Central Precinct and the Focused Intervention Team this summer, with the goal of a full rollout by next year, Schmautz said. The Justice Department gave conditional approval of the policy, with the understanding that it retains final approval over a permanent policy, should any parts change after the pilot.
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