A plan to equip Seattle police officers with body cameras by early next year should be delayed until issues such as privacy are addressed and public comments can be heard, the city’s Community Police Commission says.

Share story

A plan to equip Seattle police officers with body cameras by early next year should be put on hold until there is resolution to the bevy of concerns on how they should be used, the city’s police-oversight commission is urging.

The Seattle Community Police Commission (CPC) issued a statement saying the new technology “may have unintended consequences of significance to communities across the state,” including issues of “competing values of public transparency, and officer and civilian transparency.”

CPC member Lisa Daugaard said Friday that the 12-member commission has struggled for months to come to a consensus on body cameras. The CPC supported the Seattle Police Department when it placed cameras on 12 officers in the East Precinct as part of a pilot project in December.

The group now says that after the six-month test concludes, the department needs to “push pause” on a plan to make cameras a permanent addition to all patrol officers’ uniforms.

“Cameras can compromise officer privacy interests, and obviously, intrude into community members’ private affairs in a way that can compromise dignity and also safety for witnesses and victims,” Daugaard said in a statement to The Seattle Times. “This is a complex area and no one has yet figured out the framework for securing all of these important values. This deserves more work, and we believe that needs to happen before Seattle commits to a full-scale camera program.”

The commission was created through a July 2012 settlement agreement between the city of Seattle and the federal Department of Justice (DOJ).

Several Washington state police departments are already experimenting with the small, portable cameras, and Seattle city officials said they hope to equip all street officers by 2016.

Police departments across the country have already implemented the use of body-worn cameras or are planning to. In December, President Obama asked Congress for funding for 50,000 cameras for police departments nationwide.

Ron Smith, head of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which represents more than 1,200 officers, agrees that the process needs to slow down. He said that aiming for a full-implementation date less than 12 months from now might be pushing it.

“We don’t need to rush into this. I don’t think there has been enough input,” Smith said on Friday. “We need to engage the community.”

Viet Shelton, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s director of communications, said the mayor agrees with the CPC that there needs to be community involvement and analysis after the six-month pilot project.

“At the 50,000-foot level, we’re almost on the same page,” Shelton said. “For us right now, we’re really more focused on the implementation of the pilot.”

After reading the CPC’s statement, Shelton said he believes the commission and the mayor’s office want the same thing: “a robust, sensible, thoughtful conversation with the community.”

“We want to get it right,” Shelton added.

Seattle Police Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers, who has been closely involved in creating the department’s body-worn camera pilot project, declined to comment on the CPC statement.

Wagers said one concern brought up by the CPC, how to redact sensitive and private information captured by body cameras so it would not be available for public dissemination, is being addressed by the department.

Wagers said the department is working with three local technology experts to create redaction software that will “over-redact” images, basically blurring the faces of anyone in the footage except officers. The software would be used on footage captured by body cameras and police-car dash cameras.

“We hope to have a solution ready to pilot at the end of March,” Wagers said.

There are several proposals in the Legislature focusing on police body-camera footage.

State lawmakers held public hearings Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee on two bills that would affect policy on body cameras and public records.

HB 1910 would allow body-camera footage to be considered public record only in instances where a law-enforcement agency has identified footage relating to potential police misconduct.

Unflagged recordings could be disclosed with the consent of all subjects featured in the recording. The bill would also mandate that officers using recording devices must use them continually while on duty.

HB 1917 would exempt body-camera footage of law-enforcement or corrections officers from public-records laws, unless a person requesting the footage is featured in it or has a court order that the footage could be considered of interest to the public.

Neither bill would mandate law-enforcement or corrections officers to use body cameras.

But, says the CPC, there has not “been sufficient public engagement” on body cameras to help legislators draft policy.

“We see a need for more clarity both at the state and local level about the purpose of having police wear body cameras, which will also help determine whether that purpose will, in fact, be achieved by using them,” the CPC said in a statement this week.”