Portland police have proposed a detailed policy to govern the use of body cameras, a step that advocates say can improve relations between officers and the community but one that also has raised privacy concerns in cities around the country.

The Portland Police Department’s eight-page policy proposal, which will be taken up by a City Council committee Wednesday, says officers equipped with cameras will be required to record virtually all enforcement actions, including traffic stops, field interviews, use of force, investigative stops, searches, detentions or arrests. But it also says officers can stop recording under certain circumstances to protect the privacy of crime victims or others, and that recordings shall not be used to “gather intelligence” during legal assemblies such as political protests.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, who declined through a city spokeswoman to be interviewed, will formally present the policy to the City Council.

The policy is a key remaining step toward Portland’s long-planned implementation of body cameras by the police force.

The city expects to conduct community outreach throughout February and March and launch the pilot program in the spring, according to a timeline given to councilors. Full implementation would follow in the fall.

While the use of body cameras is intended to enhance transparency and accountability, the city would not say if community groups have had a chance to give feedback, as the city said would happen, or if the policy will need the approval of the council.


Body cameras have been debated nationally since several high-profile instances in which police officers shot and killed people of color. The debate was brought to Portland last year, after police shot and killed 22-year-old Chance David Baker at a St. John Street shopping center.


Last year, South Portland became the first department in Greater Portland to implement the technology, although at least seven other communities elsewhere in Maine use body cameras.

After originally declining to reveal its guidelines for use, the South Portland Police Department released its policy in full.

Portland’s policy establishes a detailed set of rules and procedures about when officers are required to record their activities and when they can stop recording. It also lays out rules for accessing footage and how that footage may be used in employee evaluations and citizen complaints.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which pressed Portland to adopt body cameras, declined to comment on the specifics of the policy but said there is room for improvement.


“We want to see a policy that protects privacy, promotes police transparency and accountability, and includes clear guidelines for when cameras should be on or off,” ACLU of Maine spokeswoman Rachel Healy said in an email. “The current proposal is headed in the right direction, but there is room for improvement. We hope to work with the police department to ensure the final policy maximizes the benefits of body cameras and minimizes their potential harms.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said last week he would review the policy over the weekend. But he said his initial read was that the department did a good job balancing a community desire for the cameras to be used broadly, while also addressing First Amendment concerns.

“It looks like they were taking a deep dive to make sure they came forward with something really substantial,” Strimling said. “I want to hear more about how we’re going to enforce this.”

Portland’s policy requires the department to retain recordings for 210 days, unless a recording is flagged for extended retention for a potential civil claim, lawsuit or personnel complaint.

The public can gain access to those recordings under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act and “other applicable laws.”

According to the policy, officers will be required to record all enforcement actions, including traffic stops, field interviews, use of force, investigative stops, searches, detentions or arrests.


That rule has an exception: “When an immediate threat to the officer’s life or safety makes activating the camera impossible or dangerous, the officer shall activate the camera at the first reasonable opportunity to do so.”

Then, officers can only stop recording under certain circumstances, such as at the request of a crime victim after the scene is secured, or at the request of a person with a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” including when an officer is in a residence for an nonemergency or lacks a warrant. A recording may also be stopped to protect the identity of a confidential informant.

Officers must document the reasons for stopping a video.

Special rules also apply to using cameras on school grounds, at health care facilities and at constitutionally protected assemblies, where officers might be conducting crowd control, escorts or are called for service.

“Facilitating the First Amendment rights of individuals is one of our primary law enforcement purposes,” the policy states. “These recordings shall not be used to gather intelligence or to identify individual participants not engaged in unlawful conduct.”

The policy reveals that the cameras record video even when they are not activated. Officers may request a video after an incident, but that video will not contain any audio.


The policy also accounts for scenarios where police officers have a reasonable expectation of privacy, including in offices, restrooms and locker rooms.

It also includes nine types of prohibited recording, including during the administration of an Intoxilyzer test “due to the possibility of radio frequency interference.”


Officers may not take pictures or videos of the recordings and post them to social media without permission.

Special protocols are also proposed for deadly force incidents and other serious crimes.

“If a deadly force incident occurs, a supervisor shall take custody of all involved (cameras) and transfer them directly to Internal Affairs for download. The supervisor shall document the collection and transfer of the (cameras) in a supplemental report.”


“In the case of a serious crime, (cameras) may be collected and downloaded by an Evidence Technician at the direction of the (Criminal Investigation Division) Lieutenant or Shift Commander.”

Police body cameras became a point of contention in Portland last year, after Portland police Sgt. Nicholas Goodman shot and killed Baker at the Union Station Plaza.

Police had responded to a report of a man who appeared to be intoxicated brandishing a rifle in broad daylight. Police said Goodman shot and killed Baker after he refused to comply with orders. The weapon was later determined to be a rifle-style pellet gun.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Strimling, the ACLU of Maine and the Portland branch of the NAACP called on the city to begin equipping Portland police with body cameras.

City officials secured $26,000 in grant funds from the Department of Justice last April to purchase eight cameras for a pilot program. That initial funding was expected to be followed by a $400,000 investment in the technology in the next budget.

In November, the City Council approved a new three-year contract with the Police Benevolent Association, the union representing 125 officers and detectives, and the Police Superior Officers Benevolent Association, representing 32 lieutenants and sergeants, to begin working on a plan to roll out the cameras.


Advocates say body cameras make police more respectful in their interactions with the public and can help fill in the gaps in the investigation of certain incidents.

A study of the effects of body cameras on police behavior in Las Vegas showed that the technology reduced the number of officers who had at least one complaint filed against them by 30 percent. Use-of-force incidents also dropped by 37 percent.


The number of complaints filed against Portland police from outside the department has varied over the years.

According to a draft annual report by the Portland’s Police Citizens Review Subcommittee, 14 formal complaints were lodged against Portland police officers from outside of the department in 2016. Those complaints contained 37 allegations, including 10 dealing with use of force, six for unlawful arrest or detention and four for an officer’s conduct toward the public.

In two of the cases from 2016, a complaint about an officer’s conduct toward the public and a complaint about an officer’s personal behavior were “sustained,” according to the review committee report.

City officials said the 2016 report is only a draft and still needs to be approved by the subcommittee when it meets again in March. Figures for 2017 were not available.


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