Portland, OR considers ubiquitous CCTV surveillance

Devon sez, "Portland, OR is the next city to consider a plan to implement police surveillance cameras throughout the downtown area. The proposal is to have surveillance cameras that can be accessed and controlled by police officers through their mobile devices. Although the Portland Police Bureau has assured the city council that the mobile devices will be secure, they are proposing to have the system operated through a wi-fi network. This proposal is coming at a time of significant municipal budget woes, when Portland Police are facing the potential layoff of 56 officers. Mayor Adams maintains that this system will have a deterrent effect upon crime in downtown Portland."

Maxine Bernstein reports in The Oregonian:

Amid unaddressed concerns, the Portland City Council on Wednesday sent Police Chief Mike Reese back to his bureau to draft stricter policies before allowing police to place surveillance cameras on private property in Old Town and Chinatown.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman echoed concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon when he asked for assurances that police wouldn't use the cameras to peep into private residences.

Reese, who wants to put up the video surveillance cameras to help officers monitor drug deals, said "These cameras are not focused on anything but public right-of-ways."

The chief, though, did acknowledge in response to a question that the cameras the bureau has are able to "pan, tilt and zoom."

While Reese said any footage obtained from a private residence wouldn't be allowed in a criminal prosecution, Saltzman wasn't satisfied.

He said he wouldn't support the ordinance unless a clear policy was in place prohibiting the misuse of the camera technology.

Portland Council wants more assurances before allowing police to put surveillance cameras on private property (Thanks, Devon!)

(Image: CCTV camera, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from flem007_uk's photostream)



  1. If I for one moment thought that the police would be as accountable as citizens will be to evidence gathered from such devices (and that the evidence wouldn’t vanish or be indefinitely sequestered if it indicted police) I’d be all for it.

    PDX isn’t as bad as a lot of places I read about and have friends on the scene to tell me about when it comes to cops assaulting and murdering the public with impunity; but it isn’t heading in anything like the right direction, either.

  2. It’s also important to note that Portland residents tend to live more out in the “open” than people in other parts of the country.  Walk down your average residential area, and you’ll see people having dinner, doing dishes, watching TV, et cetera.  Yet another reason why big-brother style CCTVs would be particularly distressing here.

    1. I know! I was all set to get sad and angry at Big Brother and BAM! distracted by tiny wiper blade. I wonder if that’s part of their plan? Because that is seriously cute.

  3. Sure, they just have to start with government buildings, offices, and vehicles. After those are covered, then the organizations and contractors who work with the government, then private businesses, then maybe the citizenry at large.

  4. The problem here is, quite simply, that Mayor Adams is wrong. Incorrect. Misinformed. The cameras may, at best, act as a deterrent (sometimes) in their immediate field of view, forcing crime hotspots to move by tens or possibly hundreds of metres to places outside of their immediate field of view.

    Just look at London as a case study – hundreds of millions spent on a liberty-infringing boondoggle that may well have hampered rather than helped law enforcement efforts. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/tens-of-thousands-of-cctv-cameras-yet-80-of-crime-unsolved-6684359.html

    Pro-tip: 1984 was a warning, not a strategy guide.

  5. Backgrounder:

    Old Town and Chinatown have entrenched drug dealing and prostitution problems. We’re not talking a shooting galleries / gang banging / murder capital zone. More a scruffy, quiet backwater with lots of homeless folks. North of the hi-rise area, south of the hip, upscale Pearl district.

    That’s an explanation, not an excuse.

  6. When we say “Keep Portland Weird,” we mean weird as in eccentric, not weird as in creepy.

    You wouldn’t be seeing Adams defend such a proposal if he was running for re-election.

    1. Weird as in “The dream of the nineties is alive in Portland”, I take it to be your meaning?

      Oh man, it just popped out at me, the image of the mayor (Kyle McLachlan) kayaking to his Sunday brunch, what a delightful knee-slapper.

  7. If you film cops on public streets, you risk the confiscation of your camera, assault and arrest. If the cops film you on public streets, its called a detterent to crime.

    On top of that, I’ve never, ever seen a single word printed about CCTV surveillance preventing a single crime.

    1. Eisenhower said “beware of the military industrial complex”.
      This needs a new term, “beware of the domestic law enforcement complex”, or something along those lines.

      1. He actually said military-industrial-congressional complex, so he pretty much covered the bases, even if he couldn’t see the specifics.

        1. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

          In any case (military or police), one of the key problems is “moral hazard”. And that should apply to “regular” corporations also.

  8. I was thinking of moving to Portland. Is there anywhere left on the planet where this sort of 1984 nightmare ISN’T on the rise? I just want to live somewhere that’s run by sane, rational people instead of delusional idiots who ignore all evidence against their bad ideas.

  9. Here at Security Concepts, we’re predicting the end of crime in Old Detroit within 40 days. There’s a new guy in town. His name is RoboCop.

  10. Well, at least maybe we can get a good parody clip of the whole thing out of Portlandia.

  11. Here’s something I never hear about: if a bunch of these got installed in some heavily Libertarian Tea-Partied NRA-happy locale, would the cameras get shot out very often?

    You’d think they should.

    1. Have they done it?  Because I only hear of this stuff happening in liberal-oriented cities, or minority neighborhoods.

      1. I fear you may be right, though certainly they’re spreading everywhere.

  12. I have certain unfavorable biases with the Portland Police and the way the city does things with their help. But even then I don’t find this very objectionable. I’ve lived in the areas that would be affected, and there are certain things that warrant a regular police presence. The things I’ve seen on any given night make for some pretty crazy stories. Also, there’s a steady flow of intoxicated people from every race/class combo.

  13. This is absurd, and you can COUNT on a public outcry And no less than a protest to block this. There’s no way this will happen in one of the most liberal cities in the country.

    1. The city will see your hippy ideals, and raise you one Portland Business Alliance. The red-light traffic cameras are snickering among themselves.

  14. Clearly they haven’t done their research; adding thousands of CCTVs in London did diddly squat for crime-busting. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/tens-of-thousands-of-cctv-cameras-yet-80-of-crime-unsolved-6684359.html

  15. This is a win for those who sell the cameras and service them.  Fear sells.  Fools buy.

  16. Adams are the Portland Business Alliance want to make sure that no one lays down on a park bench or sidewalk. And can do so remotely! Pesky unhoused people drive the business away from all the empty storefronts.

  17. “Although the Portland Police Bureau has assured the city council that the mobile devices will be secure, they are proposing to have the system operated through a wi-fi network.”Yeah, what could POSSIBLY go wrong there?

  18. It does not matter what their stated intentions are, or what policies are put in place.  Policies can be changed easily enough.  History has shown that unless the permissible uses of these cameras are explicitly spelled out in law, they WILL be abused.

    Considering how selective many law enforcement agencies are when it comes to actually obeying and enforcing the law, laws may not be enough.

  19. Oh, great. I get to work in a Panopticon.

    On the plus side, for any Anglophiles, it will make PDX feel more British, I suppose.

  20. At the very least, the data from these cameras, both live and recorded, should be freely available to the public.

    1. Now there’s a movement to start: every private citizen and business owner should get a camera on the front of their house/establishment that’s constantly photographing the public space immediately surrounding them, and constantly uploading this feed to a completely open public database, viewable at anytime by anyone.

      No public usefulness is served by surveillance that can only be used by the state against its constituents.

  21. I’ve been thinking about moving out of Portland (I’ve lived here for almost 20 years). This is just one more thing on my list of of reasons to leave.

    1.  It’s still the 90’s in far-western MA. Heck, it’s still the 70’s in some parts.

  22. Devon Pack here- a few updates. The City’s budget will be retaining 50 sworn officers. So this is no longer an issue of ‘cameras costing police jobs’. The next hearing on this matter will take place at City Hall on Wednesday (exact time uncertain). The plan has been amended to require a report to City Council every six months. As of this time, the Portland Police Bureau is formulating a specific addition to the code of conduct governing how Police Officers may use these cameras. 
      I would like to implore fellow Portlanders to attend City Council and speak out on this matter. I’ve already addressed them on the topic- and I really can’t afford to take a three hour break from work every Wednesday to attend each meeting. 

    1. “I really can’t afford to take a three hour break from work every Wednesday to attend each meeting.”

      They’re counting on it.

  23.  In Portland Oregon, our mayor wants to install police cameras in our downtown area.  We are going to fight against this because they don’t work, they interfere with any kind of privacy and cost a lot of money to maintain and operate.  You have lots of people who listen to you here in Portland and maybe you could mention that next week during a Council meeting there will be a vote on this issue.  For more info on this please go here:


    The Council will vote next Weds about 0930 and we could use all the help we can get, thanks


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