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Mayor Sam Adams defends proposal on city surveillance cameras

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

Mayor Sam Adams stood firm on his support of the proliferation of camera use by police under allegations from civil liberties advocates that they are ineffective and infringe on the public’s rights.

“I think the protection of civil liberties is very important but I also don’t want any of us to just dismiss the idea that this can help prevent crimes and solve crimes, because it does,” Adams told the audience at City Council today.

At issue is, by one description, a technicality in protecting property owners from damage caused by the installation, use and retrieval of cameras on their property. But it is more widely seen as a proposal by the mayor to allow the Portland Police Bureau to partner with property owners to install cameras aimed at public areas in the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood to support the illegal drug impact area program there.

The proposal had been on last week’s City Council agenda, but it was pushed to this week under pressure from Portland Copwatch and the American Civil Liberties Union to allow for more time for public consideration.

Today it was again postponed to next week after Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz said they wanted to see the policies guiding the use of the cameras, which can tilt and zoom, under police control.

Dan Handelman, with the police watchdog group Portland Copwatch, said he is concerned the cameras violate the Oregon statute that prohibits the collecting and maintaining of information outside of criminal activity. Handelman testified before City Council that he was surprised to hear from City Attorney David Woboril that the city has cameras “all over the city.”

“We’re talking about giving them to law enforcement. That’s where the danger is,” Handelman said. “I don’t think there’s anything sinister about this, but I think we do need to have a discussion before this goes through.”

Becky Straus, the ACLU’s legislative director, testified that the cameras do not strike the right balance between safety and privacy.

“It’s a waste of money and there’s no evidence that it deters crime,” she told the council.

The mayor interrupted her testimony and told her to Google it.

“You said they don’t work, that they don’t prevent or solve crime,” Adams said. “We can tell you that that is patently not accurate. We do have cases where videotape has helped us apprehend someone who was dangerous … There is evidence. You can argue whether or not it’s worth the tradeoff, but there is compelling evidence that it does work.”

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