Seattle police will launch body camera pilot program

by: David Ham Updated:

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SEATTLE, Wash. - In a few months, you could see a Seattle police officer wearing a camera.

"I believe body cameras on police officers is the future of policing," said Mayor Ed Murray.

Seattle police is getting ready to launch a program called Body Worn Video Pilot.

City Council member Bruce Harrell wants officers to test out two versions of body cameras: a camera on the chest, and one at eye level.

"The Seattle Police Department is always exploring new technologies and is excited to work with the mayor and the City Council on the implementation of the Body Worn Video Pilot program," said Drew Fowler, Seattle Police Public Information Officer.

According to City Council staff members, $150,000 has been set aside in the budget for the program.

In initial testing, six officers in the traffic unit will wear the cameras. No more than 12 cameras will be used during the pilot program.

The idea of a pilot program for Body Worn Video has been debated for years, but after negotiations between Harrell and the Seattle Police Officers Guild, an agreement has been reached to start the program.

Officers won't be forced to wear the cameras. As part of an agreement with the police union, SPD will solicit officers to volunteer for the program.

There are still concerns over privacy.

"We need to have a policy in place that clearly does not violate people's privacy. Just because you’re walking down the street and may have had a few doesn't mean you need to be recorded," said Murray.

"As for the logistics, our recommendation is that video that is potentially valuable for an oversight purpose should be flagged at the end of each shift and stored, but that all other recordings should be deleted within a short time frame. This would ensure that video cannot be later mined by the police and limit the amount of potentially sensitive video that would be available to the public via a public records request. For example, we would not want data captured while an officer is monitoring a peaceful political protest to be stored indefinitely and mined later," said Jamela Debelak of the ACLU.

City Council staff and SPD are still working on an interim policy for taking and storing the video.

Several other police jurisdictions are using the "body cams" -- especially in Kitsap County.

Bremerton and Poulsbo are both using them as part of pilot programs.

"We have 15 of them now and are still undergoing the pilot project, but the officers are enjoying the use of them.  We started getting them around January. We really haven’t found a down side to them at all.  They do an excellent job of protecting the officer and they also ensure that the police encounters are recorded, both to the benefit of the prosecutor’s office and the public.  A simple level of accountability on all persons involved that wasn’t there before," said Chief Alan Townsend, Poulsbo Police.

Bainbridge Island has been using them for the past three years.