Portland police to roll out body cams next week

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PORTLAND — A pilot program for city police officers wearing body cameras is expected to begin April 1.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck on March 22 said the program will begin with “at least a couple of cameras” next week, and is eventually intended to include body camera use by eight officers.

Speaking at the Portland Public Library in the second of two public forums on the policy and procedures for the use of the cameras, Sauschuck said the full implementation of the program should happen by the end of the year.

The pilot program ultimately involves six officers and two sergeants on varied shifts, using a nine-page policy. The camera itself is light and compact.

“This does not mean the policy is a done deal,” Sauschuck said. 

Sauschuck expects a request for proposals to supply body cameras and associated equipment to be ready in the summer.

Full implementation of the program is expected to cost $400,000. The money is allocated in the fiscal year 2019 capital improvements budget now under City Council review.

The pilot program is funded with $26,000 from a prior U.S. Department of Justice grant, and Sauschuck envisioned it might get extended as the process for full implementation progresses.

“On paper, (the policy) looks great, but does it make sense at 2 in the morning?” he said.

Guidelines for use limit the cameras to use only by uniformed officers who put them on at the beginning of each shift and return the devices when the shift is completed.

Dashboard cameras have been used in police cruisers since 2004, and the body cameras will synchronize the dashboard cameras so they will be activated as soon as a siren is turned on, or an officer unlocks a cruiser rifle rack, or in the event of a crash.

The cameras passively record in 60-second loops without audio, and can then be manually activated “at the initiation of any law enforcement encounter with a member of the public, except that when an immediate threat to the officer’s life or safety makes activating the camera impossible or dangerous.”

Officers can deactivate the cameras if asked by the victim of a crime, “a person having a reasonable expectation of privacy in a location,” or an anonymous source providing information. The officer must state the reason for deactivating the camera before doing so, then follow up with a written account.

Cameras will not be activated when officers are on breaks or in restrooms, during tactical discussions at a scene, in prisons or jails where video recording is not allowed, and during threat assessments and safety planning for victims of domestic violence.

Use of body cameras will also be limited in schools and health care facilities.

Videos will be stored for 210 days – 30 days over the customary 180 days materials are held pending tort claims – unless flagged as part of a wider internal or criminal investigation or litigation. Videos used as evidence in court cases will be stored in accordance with state rules on archiving documents, Sauschuck said.

Those videos will also be stored on the Cumberland County District Attorney’s cloud servers, he added.

Sauschuck said he is also worried about future costs.

“I’m concerned about staff time … (and) the storage cost is the unknown, it scares me a bit,” he said.

Introducing body cameras has been discussed for almost two years, and when Chance David Baker was shot by Sgt. Nicholas Goodman outside a restaurant on St. John Street on Feb. 18, 2017, Mayor Ethan Strimling urged police to move faster on implementing a program.

In March 5 letter to Sauschuck, state Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese concluded Goodman’s use of deadly force was justified. The Office of the Attorney General investigates all officer-involved shootings and has found all since 1990 were justified.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Some Portland Police officers will begin wearing these body cameras April 1 as a pilot program to test use and policies begins.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck discusses body camera use by police at a March 22 forum at the Portland Public Library.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.