City councilors on Wednesday expressed support for proposed rules governing police use of body cameras in Maine’s largest city, but some advocates want more information about how the technology would be used at schools, hospitals and public assemblies.

Councilors received an overview of the Portland Police Department’s eight-page policy laying out when officers must record their encounters, when they can stop recording and activities they are prohibited from recording.

The Portland Police Department’s 8-page policy on body cameras states that officers must record all enforcement actions, but turn off cameras in limited circumstances. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

“I just want to extend my appreciation for the work that has been done,” Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said. “It’s far more complicated than I thought it would have been.”

Body cameras are designed to increase transparency in policing, but concerns have been raised over privacy.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said he is receiving feedback from outside groups, including advocates for domestic violence prevention, school officials and free speech advocates.

Sauschuck predicted the policy would evolve, especially after a pilot program with eight cameras is rolled out by April 1 and prior to full implementation in the fall, which calls for 100 additional cameras.

No public comment was taken at the meeting. But representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Maine NAACP attended the workshop.

Afterward, both groups were pleased with the policy direction and Sauschuck’s willingness to discuss their concerns about policies governing use in schools, hospitals and legal public assemblies.

Rachel Talbot Ross, a state representative who was speaking on behalf of the NAACP of Maine, said she would like more details about use in those arenas.

“There is still some work to do in refining those areas,” Talbot Ross said.

Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director for the ACLU of Maine, said she wanted to ensure that constitutional assemblies did not become opportunities for police to gather information that could later be mined using facial recognition and other technologies.

“I’m looking more closely at that,” Amarasingham said.

The policy would require officers to record all enforcement actions, but allow them to turn off the device in limited cases, such as protecting the privacy of victims and confidential informants.

The policy also would prohibit officers from using the cameras to “gather intelligence” during legal assemblies and political protests. But Sauschuck said the cameras would be on if officers were conducting crowd control or responding to a call.

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

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

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

However, City Manager Jon Jennings said he and Sauschuck had been discussing body cameras for the past year and half, and that the rollout had nothing to do with any “external event.”

Portland’s policy would require 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.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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