Big Brother is making an effort at transparency—and it might just work.
The Seattle Police Department has taken information accessibility to a new level by posting redacted footage from its officers’ body cameras online. You can view the channel here (it’s not a stream, and each “episode” is posted separately.) Here’s what it looks like:
The SPD blotter explains why officers are wearing cameras to begin with:
The intent is to capture video of officer interactions. The footage can be used as evidence against suspects, and help monitor the behavior of officers. In addition, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that most research on the use of body-worn cameras “document a reduction in citizen complaints against the police and, in some cases, similar reductions in use of force and assaults on officers.”
Fair enough. When I’ve discussed this issue with my friends, I’ve normally come down on the side of “no body cameras,” mostly because I couldn’t stop imagining the pressure of having my work habits recorded; but the Seattle PD has made this choice, and I think it’s an interesting, civilian-friendly approach to increasing transparency.
Washington State computer programmer Tim Clemans is doing the “post-production” on the videos. He shook things up in Seattle last year after filing public information requests on body and dash cam footage from every 911 call officers responded to.
What Clemans did feels like a white hat hack of the transparency system, so I’d understand if it’s rubbing some of you the wrong way, but it also opened up an opportunity for the police department to try something new.
Via Ars Technica:
Clemans is doing it for free. The redaction surgery usually takes about one minute per minute of footage, he said. He runs it through “five lines of open source code.”
The agency is redacting more from the footage than what’s required under the state’s public record laws, he said.
“The department does not want to post raw video on its YouTube channel. It fears a privacy controversy,” he said.
The department is burning as many as 7,000 DVDs monthly to meet public demand for information. The agency has more than 1.5 million videos taking up 364 terabytes. The footage includes dash cam video, 911 responses, and “interviews with victims, witnesses and suspects.”
Clemans understands that the agency can’t keep up with demands. He said that public disclosure through the YouTube channel is a “middle ground” of sorts.
“They probably will never dramatically improve efficiency of the public disclosure process. This is… some middle ground of some proactive release of the material,” he said.
The way I see it, at least the Department is open to trying something new—and that’s how innovation starts.DONATE
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