- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Eugene police are embracing the use of body cameras to record encounters with the public.

With little fanfare, they began outfitting officers with them two years ago and now have 18 in use, the Register-Guard (https://bit.ly/1ux7Dis) reports.

After a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old last month in Missouri, interest in body cameras to determine what happened in such encounters surged nationally. Many cities are considering them, but they are not yet in widespread use.

In Eugene, body cameras are regularly used by officers downtown on bicycles, traffic motorcycle officers, a drunken-driving specialist and others.

Using body cameras saves time when unfounded allegations are made against officers, and their use tends to lead to better behavior on the part of both officers and the people they deal with, officials said.

In one case, they said, an officer got a talking-to after an investigation concluded he had used an appropriate level of force in arresting a woman.

“However, the footage also showed that the officer stated ‘shut up,’ ” a report by internal investigators said. “The supervisor discussed the choice of words with the officer.”

Along with the dashboard cameras mounted to Eugene patrol officers’ vehicles, the body cameras mean that most Eugene officers now have some kind of recording device when they interact with residents.

The city is home of the University of Oregon and is known for protests and tension involving homeless people and their advocates.

The department’s in-house monitor, Police Auditor Mark Gissiner, described the city as a “vigorous community for filing complaints.” Those are up, from 341 in 2012 to 398 last year, with an increase expected this year, Gissiner said.

Besides the propensity toward complaints, Gissiner said, there’s a growing awareness of his office and, he hopes, more trust in it, all of which help explain the rise in complaints.

Although the number of complaints is up, police said, the number that require expensive investigations is down. “It’s hard to argue with video,” said Sgt. Larry Crompton, the department’s downtown supervisor.

The cameras have helped officers working downtown, Gissiner said.

“Downtown is a location that is attractive to a lot of folks seeking a number of different things,” he said. “We used to get a lot of complaints with the downtown officers, and it’s been really helpful to have the cameras in dealing with those complaints.”

According to its website, the Vievu devices the Eugene police are using can cost from $350 to $900 each, depending on the model. The Eugene police have spent nearly $22,000 on the equipment so far, including file storage and maintenance costs.

Under Oregon state law, police must inform someone that they are being audio-recorded, though there is no law that requires police to inform someone that they are being video-recorded. The body camera has an ongoing video loop that can provide 30 seconds of footage before the audio component is activated.

Eugene police denied a records request from The Register-Guard for video and complaints against police cited in its reporting. The department cited state public records law that allows an agency to keep secret those records that relate to a personnel investigation into an officer, if no discipline has resulted.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com


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