Seattle Police Body Camera Pilot
What are the goals of the program?
Much of the debate surrounding the use of police body-worn cameras concerns access to and use of the stored video footage. The City of Seattle found a unique answer to this challenge from YouTube and a hacking convention. Through a partnership with a local hacker, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) developed and implemented new software that rapidly redacts police body camera footage to protect individual privacy and continuously uploads it to YouTube. By doing so, the SPD is granting public-access to police data and building citizen confidence in the department.
Using the knowledge gleaned from practices in the City of Rialto, California (begun February 2012), Seattle began to equip police officers with body camera technology. To support such efforts, nearly $200 million is being invested by the Department of Justice in cities nationwide. Seattle's 12-officer pilot program for body camera implementation began in September 2014 using "loaners" at no cost to the city during the trial period. Grants from USDOJ have been sought for program expansion.
Privacy concerns began to confront and confound the police department almost immediately after launching the body camera experiment. Among the key questions are who has access to the video record and how is the data stored and shared. Seattle was one of the first cities to experience the chaos of social activists who began inundating the department with public disclosure requests to release the video resulting from the pilot program testing phase. At issue was requests for public release of all dashboard cam and body cam footage since the programs' implementation; a request totaling to over 360 terabytes of data (1 terabyte = 1 million megabytes).
The State of Washington's two-party rule, whereby a police officer must obtain consent to record the audio and profile of a citizen, created an additional challenge to the city's efforts to make video data publically available. All released footage first had to undergo a lengthy redaction process to protect its subjects' privacy. The SPD's resources could simply not keep up with the growing demands.
Toward the goal of greater transparency, the SPD committed to releasing all body cam footage from the twelve officers in the pilot program using new technology. A team of local hackers at the annual Seattle "Hackathon" developed software that could quickly redact and prep police body cam footage for publishing on YouTube. The resulting software could redact up to 8 hours of footage in a day. The SPD has created the SPD BodyWornVideo YouTube channel to host and provide public access to the redacted footage, typically in 30 minute intervals.
Rialto, California Report