The Seattle Police Department will launch its new “BodyWornVideo” YouTube channel, where the public can review redacted dash- and body-camera video.
Seattle police will begin testing software developed after last December’s “hackathon,” aimed at safely and quickly redacting officer dash- and body-camera video, and has launched a new YouTube channel to showcase the work.
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) hopes the software, or some version of it, will enable the department to resolve a pressing technological issue that has stood in the way of transparency and public trust. The SPD has struggled to find a balance between releasing gigabytes of public information in the form of police video and audio while protecting individual privacy.
Mike Wagers, the department’s chief operating officer, said the new YouTube channel called “SPD BodyWornVideo” and continuing development of video-redaction tools accomplish several goals.
“Mayor (Ed) Murray and Chief (Kathleen) O’Toole have made enhancing public trust a cornerstone of police reforms in Seattle,” Wagers said. “This is certainly one important component. It also underscores our commitment to privacy.”
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Last December, the SPD took the unprecedented move of seeking help from Seattle’s high-tech talent to come up with a method to quickly blur or redact faces and some voices from video being sought by the public. The so-called “hackathon” was particularly notable since it included some of the SPD’s loudest public-disclosure critics.
Wagers said SPD is testing some of these tools to redact video from the department’s new body-worn camera pilot project.
This initial tool was developed by Timothy A. Clemans, who was part of a volunteer force of hackers that agreed to come together to see if they could solve the problem of balancing the tedious job of redacting faces and voices from huge electronic files with the need to quickly make the relevant file available.
Clemans had rattled the SPD last fall when he filed more than 30 public-disclosure requests seeking details on every 911 dispatch on which officers were sent; all the written reports they produced; and dash-cam videos and video collected from the nascent body-camera program.
Clemans, 24, dropped his requests after Wagers agreed to meet with him to talk about how they can get him what he wants, including frequent releases of video clips from patrol-car dash cameras.
The Hackathon grew out of that meeting.
Seattle police say they have collected more than 1.5 million videos over the past five years, filling 364 terabytes of space. This information includes dash-cam video collected by in-car recording systems, 911 responses and interviews with victims, witnesses and suspects.
Wagers said Seattle police are burning on average 7,000 DVDs each month to meet requests from citizens as well as prosecutors and defense attorneys. That is double from last year.
Clemans’ software was used to redact images and eliminate sound from body-cam video taken during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day demonstrations, he said.
Wagers said the tools will continue to be improved and refined with an eye toward making them available free to other law-enforcement agencies as they become available, he said.
Creation of the new YouTube channel comes in the same week the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a resolution providing a framework for dealing with technologies that affect privacy. SPD is a co-sponsor with the Department of Information Technology of the Citywide Privacy Initiative.
Meantime, Wagers has been asked by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to develop with other experts a road map and model policy for police agencies looking to equip their officers with body-worn cameras.