Body Cameras Coming To Washington

Posted by Coleen D. St. Clair | Mar 16, 2016 | 0 Comments

In December 2014, police officers in Seattle's East Precinct began a six month program testing out body cameras. Seattle police will begin using body cameras department-wide in Fall of 2016. Some 640 police officers will be equipped. The program is endorsed by Merrick Bobb, the federal monitor who is overseeing reforms in the Seattle police department. The city is currently in a consent decree with the United States Department of Justice to reduce "excessive force and biased policing ." He said in a report that "studies show body cameras substantially reduce use of force and citizen complaints. " The department has set up a Youtube channel which shows footage from body cameras worn by officers, according to The Seattle Times.

Questions arose after the plan to add body cameras was announced about what footage would be released. Certain sensitive subjects would not be appropriate for public release, such as images of murder victims or sex crimes. The broad Washington Public Records Act would have allowed such footage to be posted, according to state representative Drew Hansen. The videos were already being redacted for certain footage, including depictions of minors. According to The Seattle Times, the body cameras are expected to record some 220,00 hours of footage a year.

To address the issue of what footage should be released to the public, in early March 2016 the Washington legislature passed a bill. It sets out rules for "what body-camera footage is presumed to be private under the Public Records Act ." Footage of things like dead bodies or footage captured inside homes "would be presumptively private." That type of footage would not be released unless the person requesting the video could show "the video is of legitimate public concern." The measure still needs approval from the governor.

Seattle will be joining other police departments in the state with body camera programs as it implements its own. Cities such as Bainbridge Island, Airway Heights, and Spokane have already started requiring that police officers use body cameras. Police departments in other major cities around the country are moving towards implementing body cameras, but the process is moving slowly. The Huffington Post reported in August of 2015 that police departments in only New Orleans, Louisiana and Albuquerque, New Mexico had "finished equipping their officers with body cameras ." Other departments are still testing equipment or waiting for funding. Some cities are still only considering whether or not to use body cameras including Jacksonville, Boston, and Kansas City, Missouri. Another major city will be joining Seattle in a beginning body camera program this year. Baltimore's police officers will begin wearing cameras on May 1st. 500 officers will be equipped to start, with all officers being equipped by 2018.

According to the Huffington Post, the use of body cameras has widespread support, as reported in a poll done by YouGov/Economist in April of 2015. The poll showed that "88 percent of Americans support police officers wearing body cameras ." The use of cameras won't solve every problem, but the cameras will help keep both police officers and the citizens they interact with accountable for their actions

About the Author

Coleen D. St. Clair

Ms. St. Clair is a former senior prosecuting attorney with over 25 years experience handling criminal cases. She has successfully handled tens of thousands of criminal and DUI cases with remarkable results.

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