PORTLAND, Maine — The city plans to outfit Maine’s largest local police force with body cameras within two years — but some local activists and officials are pushing the city to move up its plan after a local man was shot dead by police last weekend.
The city has earmarked $400,000 in its preliminary 2019 budget to outfit police with the technology that has already been adopted by several other departments around the state and is standard equipment for law enforcement in many of America’s largest cities.
Proponents of police body cameras in Maine and across the country have argued for years that the cameras can enhance transparency and improve community trust. And after a Portland police officer fatally shot a local man on Saturday, some activists and officials say the city should move faster on getting body cameras.
Portland Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, who also heads the Maine NAACP, said that the shooting of Chance David Baker adds a new urgency to the call for a technology her group has long supported.
“We’ve been calling for body cameras for years now,” she said. “To think that the largest city in the state couldn’t acquire body cameras sooner than 2019, certainly speaks to its place as a priority.”
A local advocacy group, Progressive Portland, issued a statement on Sunday urging to city to move up its plan after Saturday’s shooting.
“If the incident had been recorded by police body cameras, we wouldn’t be so dependent on inconsistent eyewitness accounts,” the group wrote in an email, which launched a petition calling for an earlier implementation. “In the wake of this tragedy, the city should move that timeline up and include the purchase of body cameras in this year’s budget.”
The ACLU of Maine also called on the city to bring on body cameras before 2019.
“We cannot afford to wait that long for this vital accountability tool,” the civil rights group said in a statement, adding that “the public deserves a full accounting of how and why this young man was killed.”
It is possible the shooting was captured on the dashboard cameras with which Portland police cars are equipped.
A line in the city’s General Fund budget forecast designates money for “patrol full body cameras,” but details of how Portland police would implement the technology were not immediately available.
The decision to buy body cameras would ultimately go to the City Council as part of approving the city budget.
At a finance committee meeting Thursday, Mayor Ethan Strimling urged the city to move up funding for body body cameras and create a pilot program by next year. The mayor claimed that Chief Michael Sauschuck, City Manager Jon Jennings and many city councilors already favor adopting the technology and that rolling out a test program more quickly would ensure that “the community knows we are serious.”
City Hall was closed Monday for the Presidents Day holiday. Jennings and Sauschuck did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. A police spokesman said that Sauschuck was not in the office.
South Portland Police Department officers recently started wearing body cameras, and several smaller Maine police forces have also adopted the technology. Strimling, who has been in office for a bit more than a year, said he has long supported the technology but did not know why the city has lagged behind other Maine municipalities in bringing in body cameras.
The mayor told BDN Portland that violent interactions between police and the public are generally rare in Portland, but that it’s important — for officers and the public — to have a visual record of interactions.
On Saturday, Portland police Sgt. Nicholas Goodman fatally shot 22-year-old Baker outside a Subway sandwich shop on St. John Street. Baker had been brandishing a rifle-style pellet gun when Goodman shot him, according to police.
Goodman, who also fatally shot a man while on duty in 2008, was put on administrative leave Saturday and the incident is being investigated by the attorney general’s office and the Portland police, all of which is standard protocol for such an incident.