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Seattle Police posting body cam footage online

Seattle Police posting body cam footage online

A new era in transparency?

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.


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Yeah, I can see some HUGE potential privacy issues with cop-cams.

We’re gonna need some very refined filters between “raw footage” and anything that gets into the public domain.

Law enforcement agencies-and their risk managers-are increasingly using body cameras. From their perspective, the cameras are a win-win; it helps to weed out the (very) few bad eggs and (overwhelmingly) backs the officers in complaint investigations. The privacy concerns are genuine, however, so it will be interesting to see where we land with them. (Originally, it was leftist groups who demanded the cameras. They aren’t so happy with the reality; you know, the reality that they were wrong.)

I do hope that they work on improving the lens focus.

What’s this all cost? “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. ”

And what happens when the volunteering computer programmer with a bug up his butt about cop-cam footage finds another hobby? Or gets an actual job? Are we going to find another volunteer to spend a 1:1 ratio of his time to video footage to redact?

And for what? The kind of Vaseline-lensed footage embedded in the post?

If the pols go for this it will be primarily because it becomes a patronage job trough.

The intention may be genuinely in good faith, but the execution is pathetically pathetic.

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    Ragspierre in reply to Andrew Branca. | March 11, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    Yep. PLUS, there’s the whole deal of potential liability that crawls all over this stuff.

    In addition to privacy issues…and, boy!, are there plenty of those. You could have an intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress case from survivors of a murder victim whose death was recorded and went public. These would be very like the cases where a decedent’s body is mishandled.

    snopercod in reply to Andrew Branca. | March 11, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    The time comes when you must trust the people you hire to enforce the law.

Hint: If you are mouthing off to a cop and that cop slowly and deliberately reaches up and turns his body cam off, duck and get the hell out of there.

Years ago I worked with a guy who was with the San Francisco PD during the “White Night Riots”. After then Mayor Feinstein watched several police cars burn in front of city hall, she ordered the police to clear out the gay bars and shut them down for the night.

After my acquaintance, along with a Sgt and several other officers had cleared and closed several bars and taking all kinds of BS from the drunk gay patrons they entered another bar. By now the Sgt was getting pretty fed up. As they went into the bar and lined up along one wall and the people started with the verbal BS the Sgt looked at the other cops and then slowly reached up and removed his name tag. The other cops did the same.

Well, it did not take a genius to figure out what was coming next and the people in the bar were outta there in a heart beat. They went out the front, out the back and even climbed out the restroom window.

The Sgt looked around and said, “Well, that worked.” So they put their name tags back on and went into the next bar and did the same thing with the same result. It was the easiest and fastest way ever to clear out a bunch of drunk rowdies and no one got hurt.