(Update: Adding video, more on body cam discussion; hotel deal called off)
Will seek new site for shelter; also gives nod to keeping downtown 'parklets'
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A slim majority of Bend city councilors voted Wednesday night to approve a five-year, more than $1 million contract to buy a body camera system from Axon Enterprise Inc.
Police Chief Mike Krantz said while body-worn cameras cannot tell the whole story, they can provide vital information and evidence of what transpires in some situations, assisting in investigations and responding to complaints.
Four councilors voted for the contract -- some reluctantly -- but colleagues Rita Schenkelberg and Megan Perkins abstained. Councilor Barb Campbell was absent.
Councilor Anthony Broadman expressed misgivings about the overall cost diverting funds from hiring another officer or detective, for example, but supported the contract, with reservations.
Broadman said the cameras could be a great tool for defense attorneys and prosecutors, but he did not view them as a fix for police accountability issues nationwide.
Krantz – who was again under fire from several speakers during the visitors’ section of the meeting – said body-worn cameras provide “an additional layer of transparency to our work” and are “likely to resolve complaints faster.”
“Body-worn cameras are a great tool,” he said, but “they never tell the whole story. They can record things officers don’t see, while not recording some things officers might see.”
They also can’t be on 24/7, Krantz said, noting that state law and best practices dictate their mandatory activation in nine incidents or situations, such as when there’s reasonable suspicion or probable cause of a crime, in all enforcement and investigative contacts, as well as traffic contacts and “instance of force or forced entry by law enforcement,” to document searches and “if a contact becomes adversarial.”
But state law also directs they not be activated when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy or interactions that could contain protected medical or health information.” The recordings are governed by state public records statutes.
Bringing up two controversial, high-profile events last year, Krantz said the policies mean officers aren’t “just rolling the camera because something was going on,” so the ICE bus protest last summer “might not have had much footage” – but with regards to the confrontation near Pilot Butte in October, “there was a lot of crimes (with) suspected probable cause. That likely would have had much more video footage available.”
In general, he said, video from protests or similar events are “always going to be confusing,” he said, with “a lot going on,” so along with citizen videos, body cameras could provide a valuable perspective.
Councilor Melanie Kebler said body cam footage is “extremely helpful” evidence in cases of domestic violence, “instead of having to reconstruct that (information) from written reports.”
Mayor Sally Russell said the cameras are a tool with “a lot of guidelines, a lot of boundaries. We also know people’s memories are not always perfect in a moment when they are under extreme stress or duress.” She said police can use the evidence “to treat people more fairly, a little more accurately. We’ll see how it goes for five years. You've done your due diligence.”
Councilors also discussed and and gave informal approval for continuing added outdoor dining and retail space known as 'parklets' in downtown Bend.
'Parklets,' added last June amid COVID-19 restrictions, convert curbside areas and parking spaces into for commercial restaurant or retail use.
Under the city's current COVID-19 state of emergency declaration -- extended Wednesday night through June 30 -- the "parklets" are allowed to provide added space for restaurants and retail uses who are under capacity limits.
But city Parking Services Manager Tobias Marx said he believes they should stay in place downtown.
Marx says they provide another way for downtown businesses to continue serving residents safely while distancing and capacity requirements are in effect.
He added that they can also help "re-spur" much needed economic recovery during and after the pandemic.
"The parklets are great, they're attractive, and they're well-received by the public," Marx said. "They can draw new crowds and different people into the downtown district, and when they do so, they also help us expose other businesses to these people that are coming."
City Licensing Program Manager Lorelei Williams says the positives have outweighed the negatives so far, with parklets generating 30% of revenue for some businesses.
"We've had a very minimal amount of complaints from the public," Williams said. "But we have heard some concern from adjacent and nearby business owners."
City staff is suggesting using a thorough application process for the parklets, with a permit center, city review and inspections.
Should the city adopt new code language, business owners would pay for an annual license, with safety and design requirements in place.
Williams said if the program proves to be successful longer-term, they would like to eventually expand to other districts and neighborhoods, after an evaluation in the spring of 2022.
Near the end of the meeting, councilors directed city staff to terminate a purchase and sale agreement with Old Mill & Suites, located at 904 SE Third Street, and instead pursue alternative motel property options for providing temporary transitional housing for the community.
The city was considering the purchase of the motel through Project Turnkey, a state-funded grant program that is converting motels to shelters around the state.
The decision came near the end of a feasibility period for the purchase and sale agreement, set to expire Friday. Inspections by city staff and others determined the building would not be suitable for the project.
With the termination of the agreement, council directed staff to begin pursuing and evaluating other hotel properties that meet the criteria for Project Turnkey.
“We continue to be committed to finding a property that could be eligible for Project Turnkey funding,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Gena Goodman-Campbell. “We need to take advantage of funding opportunities like this to provide much-needed shelter options for our unhoused community members.”
For more information on Project Turnkey and the city’s efforts to address homelessness in Bend, visit www.bendoregon.gov/homelessness.