Seattle police may scrap body camera plan over costly requests for video records
The Seattle Police Department might cancel plans to outfit officers with body cameras because the ensuing public record requests for the videos might become too costly for the city, according to a report published Thursday.
The Seattle Police Department was to begin a body camera pilot program in the coming weeks, with 1,000 officers to be outfitted with the technology by 2016 as part of an effort to document crime and protect officers’ and suspects’ rights.
But when an anonymous computer programmer bombarded the department with requests for daily updates on the police videos, officials said there was not enough money or staff to fulfill this and other such possible requests, jeopardizing the plan.
“This would just shut down so many other aspects of our operation, responding to a request of this nature,” a Seattle Police Department official told the Seattle Times newspaper.
The use of police body cameras gained national attention following the August shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer and the conflicting accounts of the incident given by witnesses and the officer who killed him.
Advocates say the technology would reduce police misconduct, while law enforcement agencies say the cameras could help protect officers and provide valuable evidence about a crime. Opponents say the cameras have the potential to violate the privacy of victims and other citizens.
In Washington state, which has some of the most robust open records laws in the nation, police reports and almost all other information about officers’ contact with citizens is accessible to the public.
An anonymous man who operates a YouTube channel of 911 calls, surveillance and police videos, has now asked Seattle police for broad-reaching updates about the contents of the body camera videos taken by every officer using them.
He told Reuters in a phone interview he was trying to draw attention to the debate between privacy and transparency.
“State law is simply too liberal when it comes to privacy,” he said. “Nobody is going to change the law until somebody’s privacy is violated in a big way,” he said.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Eric Walsh)
Watch a report on the anonymous man’s requests for body camera records, as aired on KIRO-TV on Wednesday, below.