Seattle Works Out Police Body Cam Issues To Protect Privacy


Seattle Police chief operating officer Mike Wagers talks to NPR about some of the issues involved with administering officer body cameras, which Seattle adopted after federal investigators faulted the department for patterns of excessive force. Seattle started its own YouTube channel, posting video that’s been blurred-out and stripped of audio for privacy purposes. The software to do the blurring was written by a computer hacker, who earlier had overwhelmed the department with public disclosure requests. Says Wagers: “The YouTube channel was simply a way to upload as much as possible so the citizens can go on there now and look at it and see how we do business – 99.9 percent of it is so mundane you’d probably fall asleep watching it.”

Wagers says body cameras alone can’t restore trust between citizens and police. Seattle provides bias-free training on issues like crisis intervention and dealing with mentally ill suspects to every officer in the department. With cameras, he says, “There are privacy protections about what video we can release … the question is when you get that one-on-one interaction between that officer and that citizen, whether it’s a sexual assault, whether somebody engaged in some sort of disturbance, when do you turn the camera on? When do you turn the camera off? There are calls to have it on all the time and then use technology to make sure that you’re not capturing moments when people are in crisis and making that stuff public – not only just making sure you adhere to your state law, but, you know, it’s sort of common sense.”

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