A Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy. Photo: WCSO

The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted December 15 to authorize $1.397 million in spending through 2026 to purchase and deploy body cameras to the Washington County Sheriff’s 210 deputies, and to outfit 129 patrol vehicles with similar technology.

A statement released by the board on Dec. 21 says the sheriff’s office expects the full rollout of the program, including “rigorous training for deputies,” to take about one year with vehicle installations continuing into 2022. The money will come from the county’s general fund, an existing local option levy, and deputy patrol funding. 

The board of commissioners voted unanimously in June 2020 to appropriate funding for body-worn cameras following several months of deliberation, six culturally-specific online meetings, and gathering information before voting on the spending package. 

“I’m thankful that we took the time to hear from the community and gain additional insights from our subject matter experts to inform this decision,” Washington County board chair Kathryn Harrington said.

Sheriff Pat Garrett said the knowledge gained from the community hearings will help police monitor and scale-up deployment of the body and vehicle cameras “in a more community-informed way.”

“We will continue to benefit from ongoing input from community members and our Latino Advisory Commission as we strive to ensure this program adds public safety value for all community members,” Garrett said.

The county looked into launching a deputy accountability camera program following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last June. The nationwide protests that took place in the days and weeks ahead — so-called protests and counter-protests took place in downtown Portland for much of the summer — lead to the board of commissioners to hold public hearings and eventually vote in support of appropriating funds from the county budget for the program.

The board also held four “community investment conversations,” and responded to community sentiment for reallocating law enforcement funds to mental and behavioral health services. It also requested a briefing on intervention services currently available in Washington County. 

Kristin Burke, the county’s behavioral health program coordinator, provided the board with an overview of Washington County’s crisis response system, highlighting the success it’s had using mental health response teams to pair mental health clinicians with sheriff deputies to help people who are experiencing a crisis. 

Harrington said she appreciates the time and effort from the community, and the feedback provided by Burke.

“We took to heart the expressions of fear, suspicion, and even anger that we heard among people of color in our community,” Harrington said. “We also heard expressions of support and appreciation for the vital role our law enforcement officers play in community safety … These cameras are intended to serve as just one tool in the toolbox to support accountability, transparency, safety, and continuous improvement of our law enforcement services.”

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