Community members spoke out in overwhelming support of body cameras for police at a hearing convened last week by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, but the pilot project Harrell is pushing must still clear a couple hurdles.
The ACLU of Washington and the Washington Association of Defense Attorneys have raised concerns over the legality of the use of body cameras. Washington law requires that people give their consent before anyone can record their image. The only exception the law currently makes is for police in-car cameras.
But other jurisdictions around the state have managed to work around this. For the past year, Officer Morris Parrish of the Lake Forest Park Police Department has been wearing a camera made by Vievu on his chest on a trial basis under a temporary agreement struck with his union ["Would new cop cameras protect and serve citizens?" RC March 9, 2011].
Parrish told Real Change he turns the camera on when he's approaching a citizen to make contact, mostly in traffic stops. He tells them they're being recorded.
When the contact is over, Parrish turns the camera off.
The camera can record up to four hours at a stretch, but Parrish said most days he records just an hour to two hours of interaction. At the end of the day, at the police station, he uploads the video into a secure police computer using software that doesn't allow him to edit the footage he's taken.
Harrell said SPD could use this "informed consent" approach or mute the body camera. Then the officer can record only video, while using the dashboard camera, which has a legal exemption from the state' privacy ordinance, to record audio.
Body cameras may also face opposition from the Seattle Police Officers' Guild. Guild President Rich O'Neill told KIRO radio in October that body cameras would be a tough sell because of the possibility that officers could embarrass people while filming them.
And SPD brass says not so fast. Assistant Chief Dick Reed said the technology has advanced farther than SPD's policies. For example, the department has not yet developed protocols for when to turn off the camera, such as on a domestic violence call.
Harrell nonetheless appeared impatient to move forward. "If we have everyone willing to do it," he said, "why can't we get off the dime?"