Home Social gathering Audit finds issues with Portland Police Bureau’s surveillance practices during 2020 protests

Audit finds issues with Portland Police Bureau’s surveillance practices during 2020 protests


An audit of the Portland Police Bureau’s intelligence-gathering practices during the 2020 protests found officers were collecting information about political activity without providing evidence that a crime had been committed.

The audit, conducted by the City Auditor’s Office, also found that the Criminal Intelligence Unit had not restricted access to their reports and kept them longer than intended.

“They need to have procedures and policies in place that recognize that this is a particular area of ​​policing that is sensitive because it has the potential to infringe on people’s rights and stifle the freedom of ‘expression,” Portland Auditor Mary Hull Caballero said in an interview with OPB. .

Auditors reviewed 40 police reports linked to racial justice protests and 33 reports from the Criminal Intelligence Unit. In five of the 40 police reports, auditors found that officers collected personally identifiable information such as political, religious or social opinions without documenting criminal activity.

Police during protests in East Portland.

Jonathan Levinson/OPB

In one instance, an officer recorded protesters with his personal cell phone. The officer said the video was for his personal use. In other instances, officers took photos of protesters, videos of organizers, recorded license plate information, and recorded photos and videos posted on social media without indicating suspected criminal activity.

“The Office had no guidance or instructions for officers specific to investigating criminal activity during (the protests),” the audit report said. “Without guidance, officers used their discretion to decide how and what type of information to collect.”

In six cases, auditors found that the Criminal Intelligence Unit retained information about protesters who had no “demonstrated criminal activity” for longer than the authorized 30 days. The information was also available throughout the office, despite having procedures in place that should have limited access to the information, according to the audit.

“Any agent of any agency who searches the Bureau’s registration system using names will have access to case information,” the audit said. “Such searches are usually done during routine traffic stops.”

KC Jones, director of audit services at the auditor’s office, said the office collects sensitive information and needed a system that meets its obligations under the Public Records Act while protecting the privacy of people.

“When you have records containing sensitive political, religious information…and you’ve decided they have no connection to a crime, come up with a procedure for how you want to keep them and where they should live,” said Jones. in an interview. “Because we don’t think these should live in the police records system where anyone using it in the area and arresting anyone can see it.”

The 2020 protests have become a lightning rod for law enforcement suddenly facing a wave of scrutiny, budget cuts and calls for profound cultural change. The audit cites studies showing that officers view disrespectful people as more dangerous. It says the existence of this information can put people named in the reports at risk if, for example, during a traffic stop, an officer sees someone participating in a Black Lives Matter protest or playing anti music. -police.

“A new Criminal Intelligence Directive will address the general concerns raised by the audit regarding the protection of information,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell wrote in a letter responding to the audit.


Throughout the 2020 racial justice protests, protesters speculated about what intelligence-gathering tools the bureau was using. The police bureau’s air support unit frequently rotating overhead led to unsubstantiated theories that officers were using technology such as devices used to track cellphones, or high-resolution cameras and facial recognition to monitor people.

Listeners reviewed the bureau’s surveillance footage of these flights and also accompanied the bureau’s air support unit to see their capabilities first-hand.

A demonstration organized on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, May 25, 2021 in Portland.

A demonstration organized on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, May 25, 2021 in Portland.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

A minute-and-a-half-long video from May 31, 2020 shows a crowd gathered on 3rd Avenue Southwest outside the Multnomah County Justice Center, and includes radio transmissions with officers on the ground saying they were “taking aerial mortars.

Two other videos from March 27 and May 1, 2021 show what appears to be thermal camera footage of two different incidents where the police air support unit helped track a fleeing person.

Auditors said “the technology does not appear capable of capturing images detailed enough to identify individuals or vehicles.”

However, the police bureau was not alone in the skies over Portland in 2020. In June, a plane formerly registered with the US Marshals Service – and now registered with a company considered a US Marshals front – flew overhead the city center. The agency has never explained what information it collects, if any.

And in July 2020, a US Air Force forward surveillance plane circled overhead, raising concerns that the military was sending surveillance equipment to Portland, usually reserved for special operations units at the time. ‘foreigner. The Air Force later told Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, that the Air Force was conducting a long, scheduled test flight that had nothing to do with the violent federal protest response unfolding on the ground in below.

In Minneapolis, US Customs and Border Protection flew a Predator drone over protesters. CBP said the flights provide situational awareness to law enforcement on the ground.

Portland’s audit did not include any federal law enforcement agencies or their actions in Portland. In July 2020, the Portland City Council voted to bar the police bureau from communicating with federal law enforcement deployed to the city in response to ongoing racial justice protests.

Portland Police used other technologies to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence, the audit said. In total, the bureau disclosed 37 different surveillance technologies it uses. Hull Caballero said the office asked that the list be kept confidential, although the audit identifies license plate readers, cellphone data extraction tools, traffic cameras and the reporting portal in office line as examples. The OPB has previously reported the lack of policies guiding the cell phone data extraction technology used by the police.

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell speaks to the media August 27, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell speaks to the media August 27, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Jonathan Levinson/OPB

According to the audit, the biggest problem with these technologies is the lack of guidance policy. In 21 of the 37 cases, the office does not give officers guidelines on the tools they use.

The audit found several instances of Criminal Intelligence Unit officers investigating people’s social media, although there was no clear criminal cause. He also found that the office’s guidelines “did not include instructions on how to use social media during investigations.”

In its response, Lovell said the bureau agreed with many of the audit’s recommendations. These recommendations included suggestions for the office to adopt new policies providing guidance for information gathering while protecting civil rights, storing sensitive information, and requiring the city council to authorize surveillance technology.

Lovell said the office was reviewing existing guidelines on protecting free speech and had or planned to draft new guidelines to protect intelligence information and the use of social media.

The bureau also plans to draft policies governing the use of surveillance technology that would include prohibitions on indiscriminate mass surveillance, targeting a person solely on the basis of their race, ethnicity and other individual characteristics, harassing people or using technology for personal purposes.

In a letter to Hull Caballero, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he would work with the police office to implement the audit’s recommendations.

“I support these protections because of the very real history of shameful and biased surveillance practices by some law enforcement agencies in our state and nation,” Wheeler wrote. “This story cannot be forgotten as we continue our efforts to improve policing and work to build trust between law enforcement and our community.”

Hull Caballero expressed satisfaction with the office’s response to the audit.

“I appreciate that they accepted the recommendations and agreed to implement them, which is first and foremost what we are looking for,” Hull Caballero said.