Portland City Council allows $10 million in additional spending on police body camera program

By Alex Zielinski (OPB)
Dec. 13, 2023 8:56 p.m.

Portland is promising millions of dollars to a company that provides officer body-worn cameras in hopes of cutting future costs.

On Wednesday, Portland City Council unanimously granted its police department permission to spend up to $10 million to purchase and operate a body-worn camera program over five years. The vote was added to the council agenda just days earlier after Mayor Ted Wheeler learned the city could save more than $1 million if council approved the contract before the end of 2023.

FILE: An officer in the Phoenix Police Department demonstrates an Axon body camera in 2019, in Phoenix, when that city launched its body-worn camera program.

FILE: An officer in the Phoenix Police Department demonstrates an Axon body camera in 2019, in Phoenix, when that city launched its body-worn camera program.

Ross D. Franklin / AP

“While I’m frustrated by the need to rush this item to council,” Wheeler said, “I also recognize the urgency of ensuring that we’ve established a solid body cam program at the best value to taxpayers.”

The decision is just the latest in a series of significant financial commitments by the city to Axon Enterprises, a company that sells body-worn cameras, tasers, and other policing technology. In late November, commissioners approved a proposal to spend $2.6 million to equip all 800 Portland police officers with Axon’s body cameras within the next year. Last week, council signed off on another plan to spend $3.4 million to purchase Axon tasers that will be compatible with the new body cameras. In total, the city has committed $16 million to Axon in the course of two weeks’ time.

Related: Portland City Council approves plan to pay for citywide police body-worn camera program

Wednesday’s vote extends the existing agreement with Axon Enterprises to a five year period.


According to Tammy Mayer, who manages the body-worn camera program for the Portland Police Bureau, Axon is offering the city 2022 camera prices if they commit by the end of the year. If council delayed the vote to 2024, Mayer said the city would be paying Axon $1.5 million more to cover present-day prices. Mayer said the deal also grants the city the ability to trade in cameras for upgrades after the contract begins, as Axon continues to roll out updated camera models.

“It’s a good contract,” Mayer said.

Portland remains the largest police department in the county without a body-worn camera program. A federal judge directed the city to adopt a program nearly a decade ago, but the rollout has been stalled by policy disagreements until this year. The contract with Axon follows a two-month pilot program with the company, which equipped 150 officers with cameras. The city sent those cameras back to Axon after the pilot concluded.

A permanent body camera program can’t start until the city reaches an agreement with Portland Police Association, the union representing rank-and-file officers. While the city and union agreed on the policy directing the pilot program, they have yet to settle on the final long term policy. Union leadership says there are a “handful” of issues that came up during the pilot program that they want to address with the city.

If the two parties propose adjustments to the body-worn camera policy, they will need the U.S. Department of Justice’s blessing. The city is under a settlement agreement with the DOJ that requires federal approval of new police accountability programs and policy.

On Wednesday, police accountability advocates raised concern about the expedited funding approval process, especially without a public discussion about the pilot program’s results. The city has not made public any reports reviewing the pilot program, nor have they identified who participated in judging the program’s success.

Related: Portland City Council approves police body camera policies, paving way for late summer launch

City Commissioners, who unanimously approved the funding package Wednesday, are eager to see the program begin.

“It would be great to have more time to digest this,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio. “That being said, it is my priority that we roll out the body cameras as soon as possible.”

If it goes according to plan, that could be sometime in 2024.