The Seattle Police Department (SPD) is on track to implement at least two major changes to its Public Disclosure Unit within the next three months to address flaws found by the Seattle City Auditor.
On March 18, the auditor released a report stating there are significant gaps in the resources and systems SPD uses to process public records requests.
“These gaps hinder SPD’s ability to ensure accurate and timely response, provide reasonable assurance of compliance with state law and promote transparency and public trust,” the report reads.
SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers said for a unit and staff that has felt overwhelmed by increasing volume and complexity of requests, the audit, initially requested by the Seattle City Council, is a welcome guide.
“We view it as a roadmap for the unit and for how we can move forward,” he said. “It’s been nothing but positive.”
The SPD received nearly 4,700 public records requests in 2014, more than two-thirds of all requests to the city. Alongside the advent of technology such as body and dash cameras, requests have also grown more complicated and broad.
“Quite frankly, a lot of the requests we get now fall into that category of being complicated,” Wagers said. “I don’t see those diminishing.”
The report outlines 13 recommendations, including two deemed “preliminary” to the rest: Create an additional full-time position and implement new software.
According to the audit, the manager spends the majority of her time handling complex or sensitive requests. The new position would take on her caseload, allowing her to focus on supervision and improving overall procedures.
Wagers said the unit is in the hiring process, and he expects to have the position filled by the end of May.
The auditor also found that the unit relies on manual processes, moving hardcopy files from desk to desk and documenting research through handwritten notes and printed emails — an inefficient method that increases the chance of error.
To automate intake and track requests, the audit recommended using a software management system already utilized by Snohomish and King counties.
Wagers said the unit has purchased the software, is currently working with the city’s Department of Information Technology and expects to have it up and running by June.
These improvements, Wagers added, are only two of many the unit is pursuing. He noted last month’s launch of SPD’s “BodyWornVideo” YouTube channel, which uses high-tech tools to protect privacy while increasing public access to police video.
“We believe — we hope — that as we increase transparency, we will also increase public trust,” Wagers said.