Portland Police Say They Want Body Cameras, But Can't Afford Them After $15M Budget Cut

Police in Portland, Oregon, have said they want body cameras but cannot afford them after a $15 million budget cut last year in a city that has experienced numerous racial justice protests, the Associated Press reported.

Police are not required to wear body cameras in Portland, but officers have pushed to obtain them for several years, saying they promote accuracy and accountability.

"It's gotten to the point now, if you don't have a body cam policy, people wonder why," University of South Carolina criminal justice professor Geoffrey Alpert said. "And while it's really expensive, I think it's important to get these things down on video as much as possible because otherwise we're relying on written reports and then they can be inconsistent and not be remembered as well."

Portland city leaders voted for the decision to cut the budget as many people locally and nationally called for defunding the police.

"There's a lot of agencies that have them, and they help them in situations like this and also just call-taking, even crowd control, public-order-type events," Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said Tuesday, AP said.

Justice Department 2016 statistics show that 80% of police departments with more than 500 officers have adopted body cameras.

"We often hear that body cameras will provide police accountability, but I disagree. I believe they are an expensive, false solution," Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland's first Black female city councilwoman, said in June.

She said body cameras should be obtained from the existing police budget that has been slashed.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Portland Protests
Portland police have said they want body cameras but cannot afford them after the budget was cut by millions in 2020. Above, Portland police stand guard as tensions rise with a small group of protesters on April 20, 2021. Paula Bronstein/Getty

Two police officers raised their weapons while sheltering behind a tree in a Portland park. They yelled at a homeless man to put up his hands. Moments later, two shots rang out. The man collapsed onto the grassy field.

A replica gun with an orange tip was found at the scene on April 16. But some key details are unclear, including whether the fake weapon was in Robert Delgado's possession during the deadly encounter, or if he pointed it at officers.

Police have been tight-lipped, citing an ongoing investigation, and the only video from the scene—11 minutes of footage taken by bystanders, not officers—shows just a portion of what happened.

Portland is one of the few major U.S. cities where police are not required to wear body cameras, while elsewhere such footage is increasingly being released to provide an unaltered view of deadly incidents.

Delgado's family is relying on bystander video, police radio transmissions, photos and witness testimony to try to piece together what happened. Officer Zachary DeLong allegedly killed Delgado, 46, after responding to Lents Park on reports of a man "quick drawing" and holding what looked like a handgun. He shot Delgado from a distance of about 90 feet (27 meters).

"The investigation is still underway, and we are waiting for information," said Ashlee Albies, the attorney for Delgado's family. "What we have seen from the videos and from witness statements is deeply disturbing and alarming."

Since 2010, Portland police have shot and killed 27 people, according to data from the department. Three of those cases remain under investigation, while a grand jury found that all but one other were justified.

Statewide, body camera recordings exist for just seven of the past 100 deadly shootings by police, according to a Washington Post analysis.

In recent years, body camera footage has played a pivotal role in examining the use of force in police-involved fatalities across the U.S.

During the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of the murder and manslaughter of George Floyd, prosecutors showed footage from cameras worn by the former Minneapolis police officer and three colleagues. In the video, a handcuffed Floyd said he couldn't breathe as Chauvin kept his knee on the 46-year-old Black man's neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds.

In just the past month, police departments have released body camera footage of other deadly encounters: the shooting of 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant, as she swung a knife toward another girl, by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer; 13-year-old Adam Toledo appearing to drop a handgun and begin raising his hands less than a second before he was shot by a Chicago officer; and an hourlong video from Alameda, California, police that shows 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez dying after officers pinned him to the ground face down for more than five minutes.

Lovell said body cameras are a "good tool" and can bring clarity to certain incidents.

Body-worn cameras are becoming a police standard nationwide.

The New York Police Department has distributed body cameras to more than 24,000 officers, or about two-thirds of its force. Since October, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has distributed cameras to about one-fifth of its deputies.

Some departments implemented body camera policies after high-profile killings of Black people by white officers, including in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore.

But not all have followed suit.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety, the state's largest police agency, does not have a requirement for its officers to wear cameras and has a relatively small number of cameras. New Orleans police use body cameras, but some nearby suburban departments don't.

In Anchorage, Alaska, voters passed a $1.8 million proposition last month that includes funds for police body cameras.

Portland police are also hopeful the devices will soon become a reality in the country's 26th-most-populous city.

During recent bargaining talks, the Portland Police Association made a proposal that "included the issue of" body cameras, according to a statement from city officials. Specifics were not yet available.

In 2019, the Portland Police Bureau revived plans to pursue a body camera pilot program that was supposed to be implemented in 2020 and 2021. The bureau estimated it would cost roughly $2.9 million to get a body-worn camera program up and running, with ongoing costs of about $1.8 million a year.

But last year, as protesters took to the streets nightly to demand racial justice and reform, the City Council and mayor voted to cut $15 million from the police budget, effectively halting the program.

In addition, Hardesty wants to make sure a new police oversight board has access to all footage and that officers are required to record all law enforcement interactions.

"It has taken filming the police as journalists (and) civilians to reveal the everyday life of interacting with the police while being Black," Hardesty said. "Even that hasn't led to substantial change in policy or behavior. That's why it's important to keep our eye on reinvesting in community."

Protester Argues With a Portland Officer
Portland police have said they want body cameras but cannot afford them after the budget was cut by millions in 2020. Above, a protester stands in front of a Portland riot officer following the police shooting of a homeless man in Lents Park on April 16, 2021. Nathan Howard/Getty Images