SALEM — With national attention focused on the use of force by police, the Oregon House overwhelmingly approved two bills Tuesday seeking clarity on the use of cameras worn by police officers or held by citizens.
One bill would require police departments that use cameras worn by officers to come up with a policy for recording, retaining and dispersing videos. The other bill would make it clear that citizens have a right to videotape police activity as long as they don’t interfere.
Proponents aid the measure would add to the public’s trust in law enforcement.
“This isn’t about catching officers behaving badly,” said Rep. Lew Frederick, a Portland Democrat who supported both bills. “It’s also not about catching members of the public behaving badly. It’s about bringing the tension down a notch.”
House Bill 2571 would give law enforcement agencies that use cameras the authority to come up with their own rules, within parameters set by the Legislature. Agencies would have to keep footage for at least six months, but not longer than 2 ½ years, and they’d be prohibited from running facial-recognition software. Officers would be directed to turn on the camera once they have reason to believe a crime has occurred and record continuously until the interaction is over.
The bill would create a new exemption from the public records law, allowing law enforcement agencies to keep videos secret unless ordered to release them by a judge. If released, all faces would have to be blurred.
Rep. Jennifer Williamson, a Portland Democrat who was one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said the secrecy provision is an appropriate balance between the public’s right to know and the privacy protections of the people involved, but it drew opposition from lobby groups for newspapers and broadcasters. In a letter to lawmakers, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association and the Oregon Association of Broadcasters said it would
inhibit transparency for police activity.
“I think that balance needs to struck a bit better,” said Rep. Julie Parrish, a West Linn Republican who said she was unhappy that faces would be blurred but voted in favor of the bill in hopes it could be fixed in the Senate.
The bill passed the House 50-9.
House Bill 2704 would allow citizens to videotape police activity without informing the officers, as long as they don’t interfere. It creates an exemption from Oregon’s anti-eavesdropping law, which generally prohibits recording sound of people without their knowledge.
It passed 51-8.