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).

Litigation

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.” 

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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. 

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Legislation

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.

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PRIVACY: Regulate Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) surveillance technology (SB 639)

Law enforcement agencies deploy license plate reader surveillance technology in Oregon without adequate or consistent privacy restrictions. Many agencies retain the location information and photograph of every vehicle that crosses the camera’s path, not simply those that are associated with a criminal nexus.

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Other

An Open Letter to Mayor Hales Regarding Free Speech

free speech sign behind a fenceNovember 14, 2016

Dear Mayor Hales,

The ACLU of Oregon joins the calls urging those few who have been engaged in violence and vandalism during the protests to stop. However, we fully rebuke both your calls for the protests to end and your statement that protest cannot effect change in our democracy. American history, indeed world history, is full of stories of protest that opened the path to change.

Peaceful assembly and protest is at the heart of our democracy. It may not always be convenient or pretty, but we think it is powerful.

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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.

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