Police Practices

"If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."
-- Louis Brandeis,
U.S. Supreme Court Justice,
Olmstead v. United States (1928)

Police have the vital and difficult job of protecting public safety. Performing this job effectively does not require sacrificing civil liberties or civil rights. All Oregon police agencies, from the state patrol to city police forces, need to respect the rights of individuals while enforcing the law. And when misconduct occurs, there must be policies and mechanisms for holding police accountable for their actions.

ACLU is also working to eliminate racial and ethnic profiling in police practices that have a disproportionate impact on individuals merely because of their race, color, national origin or religion.

For more information on your rights when stopped by the police, please feel free to download our Your Rights in Oregon card (under Related Documents).


Oregon Supreme Court Ruling in Eugene Taser Case Strengthens Public’s Right to Records

ACLU Lawsuit Increases Transparency in Police Use of Force Inquiries

still from video of tasing incident shows man on ground with two police standing over himSeptember 15, 2016 – The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that the City of Eugene must turn over records to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon in their inquiry into the high profile use of force against Eugene protester Ian Van Ornum. In 2008, Van Ornum was twice tased while peacefully protesting against the use of pesticides in downtown Eugene.

The City of Eugene relied on an exemption to the public records law to deny the release of documents in the case. 

In the unanimous decision, the court said that the public has strong interest in police oversight.

 “Without mutual trust, the police cannot do their work effectively and the public cannot feel safe,” wrote Oregon Supreme Court Justice Martha Walters. “One way to promote that necessary mutual trust is to make police practices and procedures transparent and to make complaints about police misconduct and the discipline that is or is not meted out open to public inspection.”

The decision reinforces the strong public interest in disclosure of information about the use of force by officers, alleged police misconduct, and the process by which those allegations are reviewed. 

Oregon law says that when an investigation does not result in discipline of any public safety officer then the records will not be released except “when the public interest requires disclosure of the information.” 

With this decision, the court places significant value in the public interest exceptions in Oregon’s public records laws. This will be very important in future public records requests, particularly requests that relate to video captured by police body cameras or dashboard cameras on patrol cars.

Kimberly McCullough, ACLU of Oregon’s legislative director, said the case was a very significant win for Oregonians. 

“Today is a big day for police accountability in Oregon,” said McCullough. “In this time of national concern regarding what is appropriate police conduct, we are proud that Oregon’s answer is now to shed more light on the review process.” 


ACLU Challenges Use of Disorderly Conduct Law Against Protester

rights of protesters imageApril 18, 2016 - Attorneys on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a friend of the court brief in the trial of Teressa Raiford in support of her free speech rights. In August 2015, Teressa Raiford was arrested and booked on charges of disorderly conduct stemming from a protest in Portland that marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown. The brief urges the court to consider the legislative intent behind the disorderly conduct statute. 



VICTORY! The Right to Film the Police Bill Passes the Oregon Legislature

The Oregon legislature has made it clear the public has the right to openly record police by passing HB 2704. The bill was signed into law by the governor! 

June 16, 2015 - Victory - Right to Film the Police bill passesBystander video of police encounters can be very powerful, as recent events have shown. We can all agree it should not be a crime to pull out a phone, hold it up, and record an officer who is engaged in misconduct. However, under the current Oregon law, it is a crime to record a conversation without "specifically informing" the parties to the conversation. The problem is obvious — it may not always be safe or reasonable to provide a warning; for example, when the officer is engaged in misconduct or if the officer is dealing with a dangerous situation. Now that it has been signed into law, the right to openly record police is protected in Oregon.

Over 1,700 ACLU supporters took action on this issue by contacting their legislators in Salem. Together, our voices were heard! Thank you to everyone who took a stand for the right to film police in Oregon.


PRIVACY: Prohibit Unwarranted Access to Electronic Communications and Location Information (SB 640)

Electronic communication – through email, cell phones and social media – has increasingly eclipsed postal mail and other hard-copy methods as our primary means of communication. Unfortunately, some government agencies interpret our outdated privacy laws to allow them to intercept and access a treasure trove of information about who you are, where you go, and what you do – the information being collected by search engines, social networking sites, and other websites every day.



Portland Police Body Camera Policy is Critical for Accountability

body cam imageOctober 4, 2016 -  The Portland City Council will soon vote on whether to ratify an agreement with the Portland Police Association about a new police union contract and a draft body camera policy. The agreement creates a serious risk that body cameras will not serve as a tool for accountability in Portland by giving the Portland Police Association too much power over the contents of the body camera policy. Because of this, and concerns that the public was shut out of negotiations over the police union contract, we have asked the Portland City Council not to ratify the agreement. 

Police body cameras have the potential to serve as a much-needed police oversight tool, but if the technology is to be effective at providing oversight, reducing police abuses, and increasing community trust, it is vital that the cameras be deployed with good policies to ensure they accomplish those goals. Without good policies, body cameras risk becoming just another police surveillance device—and one with very real potential to invade privacy.


Oregon Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Issue Statement in Support of a New Approach to Drug Policy

September 26, 2016 - The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon applauds the Oregon sheriffs and chiefs of police for their statement today supporting a new approach to drug policy in our state, including a recommendation to charge drug possesion as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Kimberly McCullough, legislative director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“We are encouraged that Oregon law enforcement recognize that harsh drug laws have been a failure, wasting taxpayer money and disproportionately impacting communities of color. Criminalization does not help people struggling with addiction and often exacerbates their problems. There are more effective ways to use Oregon’s limited resources to address this public health issue.”

David Rogers, executive director at the ACLU of Oregon, said:

“Longer criminal sentences are not always the path to justice, safety, or solving challenging social problems. I am pleased to see Oregon law enforcement leaders promoting a smarter approach in our state. Policies that prevent people from rebuilding their lives are bad for Oregon. When someone is charged with a felony drug crime it can follow them for life, preventing access to housing, employment, education, and more.”