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Gresham cops joining national trend toward body cameras

Critic says new tech will only deepen trust issues

As protests and debates continue in Portland and across the nation on the racial divide between police officers and the communities they serve, the Gresham Police Chief says he was already looking at acquiring body cameras for his force before President Barack Obama announced federal funding for such devices.

“In the last year, it has become evident to me that body-worn cameras are the wave of the future in law enforcement,” Police Chief Craig Junginger wrote in an email to The Gresham Outlook. “It allows the recording of incidents that in the past would have been he-said/she-said incidents and is able to portray the actual facts of what occurred.

"I believe it also makes us more transparent and will dispel a lot of criticism as to how we operate because the proof will have been recorded. I believe officers act appropriately and act legally in about 99 percent of their community contacts,” he added.

At the chief’s direction, Gresham Police Lt. Claudio Grandjean put together a nine-person committee to flesh out policies around the body cameras, also called Personal Digital Recording Devices or PDRDs.

The first meeting of the committee was Nov. 26 and they hope to have recommendations in place by the next fiscal year beginning in July 2015. Details on cost and the implementation process are not yet available.

Grandjean said the group, made up of officers and sergeants, is looking at how other police forces around the country have implemented the new technology.

“I know other agencies have already worked through this,” he said.

Trust issues go deeper than video

But Teressa Raiford, a lead organizer of the Don’t Shoot Portland movement that held a rally in Gresham Wednesday, Dec. 3, said police-worn body cameras are not the answer to their concerns.

“I think that the body cameras are going to create a surveillance issue for people,” Raiford said. “I’m not too comfortable with it; it doesn’t give me a sense of security.”

The North Portland resident began her community activism after the gang-related shooting of her brother, Andre Payton, in 2010. Raiford explained that personal tragedy changed her view of urban violence as a community health issue. She added that people in poverty — who are disproportionately nonwhite — don’t get a fair shake in the justice system.

“They seek justice and don’t really receive it. ... It sounds like a complaining situation when you are not rich,” Raiford said.

Raiford noted that in the police-involved death of Eric Garner in New York City, video of the chokehold arrest still did not lead to an indictment of the officer.

“Walking robocops is not creating public safety,” she said. “We want them to invest in policy change and oversight by federal grand juries, not to continue to invest in anti-privacy equipment or militarization equipment.”

Small rate of complaints

Chief Junginger said he believes that body cameras are the wave of the future and the community will be soon demanding them.

“There is public surveillance everywhere we go now anyway,” he said. “I believe it will enhance the trust communities have in police because they will see that officers act appropriately the majority of the time.”

Grandjean, the Gresham Police spokesman, said that in the last three years worth of police contacts in the city — more than 210,000 of them — 180 complaints were lodged and five accused the Gresham Police of excessive use of force.

“That’s a very, very small percentage of all our contacts,” he said of the 0.08 percent complaint rate. “The point is, we’re doing pretty good. We’re trying to be really intentional about this, instead of reacting to things.”

The Gresham Police Department’s racial makeup:

Total: 119 sworn officers

Caucasian: 109

Latino: 4

African American: 2

Asian: 2

Native American: 1

Pacific Islander: 1

Source: Gresham Police Department

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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