Seattle police call short delay in body-camera test

By: Essex Porter

Updated:

SEATTLE - The Seattle Police Department had said West Precinct bicycle officers would start using body cameras today, but now the test has been delayed for at least a day.

The head of the Police Officer's Guild said members have agreed to the cameras, but just want to make sure of the policies and training,

“I know they wanted to have things rolling but, we've kind of compressed things in a short amount of time. I believe in the next few days, if not week, we'll be able to roll out that program,” said Officer Kevin Stuckey.

This latest program will be a continuation of the last year's test at the East Precinct.

“I would say the majority of officers who work in any major metropolis have been filmed. So you know we're comfortable, I don't think they are concerned with being filmed,” Stuckey laughed.

But with cameras comes a clash between police transparency and the privacy of the people they encounter.

“When you go in and I'm seeing you at your worst, I'm then going to take that and dump it into a You Tube channel? That's the concerns that people have and I don't know that we've addressed those yet,” he said.

We talked with Tim Clemans, who once peppered Seattle police with public records requests for video -- then was hired for a time to help it think through some of the legal and technical challenges.

“I think the most important thing is that the department needs to be pushing out the video. And it should not be up to people to be requesting it, especially if there is any hint of misconduct,” he said.

The Seattle police are still planning on a full scale rollout of body cameras this summer.

What to know about support for the SPD body camera program 

The department, which finished a small pilot program this summer in which a dozen officers used body cameras, plans to have nearly 850 officers wearing body cameras by the end of 2017.

The City of Seattle has set aside $4.6 million over the next two years for the body cameras. A federal grant allotted $600,000 for body cameras.

Seattle Police Department Chief Kathleen O'Toole said in 2015 that the they had a moral obligation to do body cameras. 

"Police officers are safer.  People in our communities are safer, less likely to have use of force incidents and complaints against police,” she said.

In a recent survey done for the department, 92 percent of people responding say they support officers wearing the body cameras.

What to know about concern with the program 

More than 50 police departments across the state have experimented with body cameras, but few actually use the devices daily. There has been widespread concern related to release of the video and privacy protections.

Both Stuckey and the ACLU question whether putting cameras on officers will actually offer the public better transparency into the department.

"We think that SPD and our city's leadership should hit the brakes a little bit and consider what should really happen before we make a step and a big investment in body cameras," said Shankar Narayan, technology and liberty project director for the ACLU of Washington.

The ACLU says there needs to be greater community involvement before SPD expands the program.

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