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UOPD attempting to equip all officers with body cameras

In late September, the Eugene Police Department received $598,000, half from a federal grant and half from the city of Eugene, to outfit every officer with a High Definition body camera. The University of Oregon Police Department is on its way to matching them.

Over the past two years, the UOPD has slowly integrated a large stock of body cameras into the department, testing out different brands and models. They have almost enough for every officer.

“What we’d like to do ultimately is eventually get to one product that works the best with our overall system,” UOPD Public Information Officer Kelly McIver said.

Across the country both police departments and citizens have pushed to increase the use of body worn cameras in the wake of several controversial police shootings. For citizens the cameras provide a level of police accountability; for officers they are a reliable witness.

The University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology published the first study on body cameras in 2012. They studied their use at a police department in Rialto, California. Results of the study appealed to concerned citizens. It found that use-of-force incidents dropped by 59 percent when officers began wearing body cameras. Departments approved of the results as well, as the amount of citizens complaints decreased by 87.5 percent.

“It really is something that works well for everybody concerned,” McIver said. “It’s certainly something that can be as much protection for an officer as for members of the public because it allows you to go back and see what actually happened.”

“Sometimes, especially if you’re dealing with intoxicated individuals and things like that, sometimes the recall of exactly how something went down isn’t entirely accurate,” McIver said.

EPD received their cameras as part of a grant from the US Department of Justice. Out of the 285 departments that applied, EPD was one of only 73 awarded the money. The only other police department in Oregon to receive the grant was Beaverton. UOPD unsuccessfully applied for the same grant in partnership with the Portland State University Campus Police.

EPD has estimated that the grant will buy 170 body cameras. The department had already been using cameras for their bike force for several years.

“One of the benefits of it that other agencies do not have in deploying these body cam videos is that we already have wide agency wide acceptance of it,” EPD Assistant Chief Karl Durr said in a press conference in September. “We don’t have to try to convince the officers that this is something good. They’re already asking for them.”

UOPD’s body camera footage is used primarily for internal training and reviewing complaints. The footage is not available through public records requests. The cost of data storage is a factor, as well as the time and cost of reviewing and redacting footage.

“Nobody intends that the taxpayer time, or in our case tuition and general fund paid staff individuals, go so heavily into that,” McIver said.

Since the footage is not available from a public records request, some have doubted its usefulness.

“They’re really using [the cameras] for their own reasons. It really doesn’t assist in accountability,” attorney Brian Michaels said. Michaels has been involved in litigation against the UOPD before, but he has never requested body camera footage.

Michaels wants the cameras more firmly embedded into university policing. “The bottom line is, I see no downside,” he said. “It improves professionalism, enhances respect and removes unconstitutional behavior.”

“A way for people to access how the police conduct themselves can only improve relations with the community,” Michaels said.

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Noah Mcgraw

Noah Mcgraw