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Disclosure limits clear way for police body camera law

COURTESY OF REVEAL - State lawmakers have approved limits on disclosure of police body camera video, which clears the way for Gov. Kate Brown's signature on the bill.Gov. Kate Brown is the last stop for a bill to regulate how police can use body cameras to record their interactions with the public.

The Oregon House gave final legislative approval to House Bill 2571 on a 59-1 vote Monday. The Senate had amended the bill to shield from public disclosure any footage related to an ongoing criminal investigation, and passed it 29-0.

There was no debate in either chamber on the final version.

The Columbia County sheriff and Hermiston police have decided to equip their officers with body cameras, and Portland is considering it. Mayor Charlie Hales has endorsed the idea and testified for the bill, but equipping the larger Portland police force would be more costly.

However, the bill does not require police to use them.

Under the bill, officers can activate cameras “continuously” upon reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a crime or violation is being committed. The camera can be turned off once an officer’s participation ends.

Officers must announce that a body camera is in use, but agencies can make exceptions based on privacy, public safety or “exigent circumstances,” such as when an officer attempts to thwart someone from committing a crime or interviews a vulnerable witness.

Although the bill would shield most police video from disclosure — similar to video shot from cameras mounted in patrol cars — it does provide an exception if public interest in disclosure outweighs the need to withhold it.

Ultimately, a judge would determine what is in the “public interest,” which is a common legal balancing test applied to materials under Oregon’s public records law.

But requests must be “reasonably tailored” to the approximate date and time of an incident, and the video must be edited to make all faces unrecognizable.

Oregon law bars agencies from disclosing photographs of officers without their consent, although agencies themselves can use them.

The House has not yet taken final legislative action on a companion bill (HB 2704) that makes it clear it is legal for people to record a conversation with a police officer performing official duties in a public place. The Senate approved an amended version last week.


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