Portland city councilors expressed their support for a pilot body camera program to be used by members of the Portland Police Department this afternoon. The hastily called press conference came on the heels of the fatal shooting of Chance David Baker, 22. in front of the Subway Sandwich Shop, on St. John Street last week. Watching the press conference from the sidelines and not part of it, was Mayor Ethan Strimling – whose strained relations with city councilors are well-known – this failure to include the city’s Mayor was a further demonstration of that failed relationship.
It was also a political move by the city council to get out in front of Mayor Strimling who recently has called for the Police Department to expedite the use of body cameras in light of the recent fatal shooting. Police Chief Michael Sauschuck recently called the Mayor’s call to expedite the use of body cameras, “disgusting” because it is politically motivated.
Councilor George Brennerman said that the Finance Committee has been working on this pilot program since before the fatal shooting of Baker last week. He said that there is $25,000. in federal grant money to fund a test pilot project for a few members of the Portland Police Department.
Brennerman also said that “we want to make sure there are policies and procedures in place for the body cameras before they are ever used. This requires a thoughtful discussion by the Council and by the community,”
Following the brief news conference, Mayor Ethan Strimling held his own mini-press conference from the nearby steps where he had been watching the councilors support the idea. The Mayor said that the idea of body cameras had certainly taken on momentum recently. “I’m glad that the Council is united in the effort to use body cameras. This is the first time there has been public discussion on the matter. It’s good public policy.”
The Mayor also said that this press conference was the first time he’d heard of the $25,000 funding available for this pilot program – providing additional evidence of the fissure between the Mayor and the City Manager’s office. They have been at odds over numerous issues. accentuated by the Mayor’s liberal agenda which is contrary to the conservative agenda of the Portland city council. Mayor Strimling has given conservative members of the City Council like conservatives District 1 representative Belinda Rae and Nick Mavadones indigestion. That probably won’t stop anytime soon.
When asked about Police Chief Sauschuck’s criticizing his politicizing of the body cameras, the Mayor said he didn’t know what was behind it: “Ask him,” he said.
On February 20th, the ACLU released a statement urging the Portland Police Department to “fast track” is body camera program. “The Department has earmarked money to implement body cameras starting in 2019, but we cannot afford to wait that long for this vital accountability tool. Introducing body cameras, along with proper policies to protect privacy and due process, will help us better understand what happens.” The statement from the ACLU also said that a large percentage of shootings in Maine involve people suffering from mental illness. The use of body cameras by police offices would help to insure that they are properly trained to deal with this population and to minimize the impacts rather than maximize the impacts on them.