Seattle Police One Step Closer to Adding Body Cameras

By Jennifer Sullivan, KOMO-TV (Jun. 29, 2016)

SEATTLE -- Seattle police are one step closer to implementing a body-worn camera program.

A policy focusing on how and when the cameras will be used has been submitted to the monitor who is overseeing the department as part of a federally mandated consent decree. A police spokesman said that no body camera will hit the streets until they get the go-ahead from the monitor.

The police proposal was obtained by KOMO news through a law enforcement source. According to the 12-page policy:

  • Only trained, uniformed, officers can wear the devices
  • Officers must notify people that they are being recorded
  • Police must stop recording if victims or witnesses they are speaking to in a home or private setting ask them to.
  • SPD must not record the deceased, the location of a domestic-violence shelter or record officers making a death notification.
  • Police must upload all recorded video before the end of their shift.
  • All officers will check cameras for problems, or potential malfunctions, at the start of their shift.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Wednesday that he hopes street officers will have body cameras by the end of the year.

"I think we can get this right and it's been proven in other cities," Murray said on Tuesday. "You can deal with issues of use of force by having body cameras."

Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor overseeing Seattle police reforms, strongly supports body cameras and endorsed their use in a report released last year.

Seattle police completed a body camera pilot project last year. The department has also been awarded $600,000 in federal funding to pay for the program.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) has been paying close attention to body camera deployment statewide - especially in Seattle.

"Please understand that body cameras are not an unmitigated good thing," Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington. "They are only a good thing if you put the right rules around them."

While the City appears to be speeding toward getting body cameras on the streets, the discussion on body camera polices has created two unlikely allies - the ACLU and the Seattle Police Officer's Guild.

Both the police union and the civil rights group want to be included in policy proposals and both believe things need to slow down. 

"My hope would be that before any widespread deployment and adoption of the policy that there be an opportunity for community input," Narayan said.

Ron Smith, who is President of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, said that he only learned Wednesday that the draft policy had been completed.

"I think they need to slow down and get this right," Smith said. "This is a dramatic change of working conditions and it's a mandatory subject to bargaining. This has to be negotiated with us."