Skip to comments.Portland Council wants more assurances before allowing police to put surveillance cameras on private
Posted on 05/03/2012 7:12:30 PM PDT by Jack Hydrazine
Amid unaddressed concerns, the Portland City Council on Wednesday sent Police Chief Mike Reese back to his bureau to draft stricter policies before allowing police to place surveillance cameras on private property in Old Town and Chinatown.
Commissioner Dan Saltzman echoed concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon when he asked for assurances that police wouldn't use the cameras to peep into private residences.
Reese, who wants to put up the video surveillance cameras to help officers monitor drug deals, said "These cameras are not focused on anything but public right-of-ways."
The chief, though, did acknowledge in response to a question that the cameras the bureau has are able to "pan, tilt and zoom."
While Reese said any footage obtained from a private residence wouldn't be allowed in a criminal prosecution, Saltzman wasn't satisfied.
He said he wouldn't support the ordinance unless a clear policy was in place prohibiting the misuse of the camera technology.
"There's a little bit of voyeur in all of us," Saltzman said. "And the temptation is too great for officers."
The chief said he couldn't imagine "any of our officers" risking their careers with such misconduct, but said he'd agree to adopt a policy that restricts the camera use and sets out the consequences for any abuses, as Saltzman requested.
"I'm more concerned about the misuse of cameras for non-criminal purposes and the expectation of privacy," Saltzman said.
Saltzman also urged the chief to find out if the surveillance system can be intercepted by hackers.
"No system is going to be bulletproof," Reese responded.
The ordinance had been pulled off the council's consent agenda last week after a request from Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch.
"This is another step toward big brother,'' Handelman told the council.
David Fidanque of the ACLU of Oregon, has also questioned the idea, citing concerns about privacy and effectiveness.
Reese wants the council to allow him, or his designee, to enter in agreements with private property owners that would give the city or police "reasonable access" to buildings, allow a licensed contractor to install cameras and hold the property owners harmless from liability. The city will cover costs.
The bureau already has the cameras, and the footage could be accessed remotely on officers' smartphones or laptops.
Asked how long the recordings would be kept, Reese said the images are recorded over unless an investigator requests a copy for criminal prosecution.
Mayor Sam Adams added that the city attorney's office has advised police that no images can be kept longer than 60 days if there's no indication the surveillance caught a crime being committed.
"I think the protection of civil liberties is very important, but I don't want to dismiss the idea that this can help prevent crimes and solve crimes, because it does," Adams said.
"This isn't London...This isn't New York or Chicago," the mayor added, identifying cities where a proliferation of surveillance cameras are installed on city streets.
Suzanne Hayden, executive director of the Citizen Crime Commission, said she supported the plan. She called it a positive "public-private partnership'' that would increase police effectiveness and support businesses in the area where the cameras are placed.
Portland police say the new surveillance "will assist in active arrest, prosecution and court supervision" of drug offenders dealing openly on the street, particularly in the areas of Old Town/Chinatown that have been dubbed Illegal Drug Impact areas.
On Wednesday, the video surveillance discussion followed a report by the city and Multnomah County prosecutors on the city's drug impact areas. They reported that about 24 percent of all county drug arrests involving heroin, cocaine and marijuana occurred within the city's drug-impact areas encompassing parts of Old Town/Chinatown, downtown and Northeast Portland.
Since June 1, 2011, there have been 400 arrests in the drug impact areas. Most arrested in the drug impact areas live outside those areas. The court ordered 381 defendants not to return to those areas as a condition of probation 40 percent of those people qualified for drug treatment through the city's Service Coordination Team.
Portland Council wants more assurances before allowing police to put surveillance cameras on private property
For the record I'd want some real assurances before allowing police to put surveillance cameras on anyone's private as well.
Police officers are just as likely,maybe even more so,than any other government worker to misuse their tools to spy on innocent people.