In 2020, the Bend City Council, in a split decision, voted to fast-track a police bodycam program the City had been planning for several years. With police accountability a major topic at the time, speeding up the implementation of the bodycam program made sense. Still, Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz warned that bodycams wouldn't tell the whole story. Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman expressed concern that the presence of cameras would make people act differently. Bodycams could help but shouldn't preclude the City from also bringing in mental health crisis teams, like those of Eugene's CAHOOTS program, to respond ahead of cops in certain situations, he said.
With a recent case, however, the public can now see how bodycams are bringing more police accountability to Bend. Back in June, policy bodycams captured the scene of a Bend police officer allegedly assaulting a man who was reported to be intoxicated. Two other officers reported the incident to their superior, and the accused officer was put on leave. Last month, Bend Police announced that the officer had been charged with assault and harassment. Bodycam footage released by the Deschutes County District Attorney's office shows the incident going down.
When a Bend city councilor expressed concern that people might act differently in the presence of a camera, we suspect this was not the type of "acting differently" that he had in mind. While we can only speculate about the motivations of the two officers who reported the incident, it does beg the question: Would the officers have reported it had there been no cameras at hand?
We could imagine that the reporting officers' motivations were based purely on accountability and doing the right thing. But had these officers not reported the incident, that footage may have laid in obscurity, never to be seen again. It took both elements—the presence of cameras and the reporting of the incident—for us to arrive at this moment where a Bend PD officer is held accountable for the alleged mistreatment of an arrestee. This is what police accountability can and should look like.
There was some hesitation about the costs of a bodycam program—which include the cost of storing all that footage, and the staff time it takes to edit out health or other protected information from footage before it's released—but with this one incident, in the first year of the bodycam program, we can see why it's worth doing. Amid the ongoing conversations about what "defunding the police" actually means, this may be one argument for retaining police budgets. Without the ability to stock cameras, store footage and prepare it for public consumption, the public would not know what it now knows about this case.
That all said, our collective interpretation of "defunding the police" should also include the expansion of mental health crisis teams, as Broadman suggested. All of these efforts could lead to less use of force and better outcomes for anyone experiencing a crisis in Bend.