The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has taken transparency to a whole new level by posting officers’body-cam videos on YouTube. The effort in Seattle is part of a broader trend among police departments nationwide to use in-car video cameras and body cameras to boost transparency and accountability.
Grant Fredericks, a certified forensic video analyst and an instructor at the FBI National Academy, told StateTech that law enforcement agencies put in-car cameras on their vehicles for three primary reasons: to build public trust through transparency, to gather evidence and to review footage to facilitate training. Those same rationales often apply to body-camera deployments.
Last February, the Seattle Police Department launched its YouTube channel as part of a six-month pilot, in which 12 officers tested body cameras. The department posted each video captured by officers dispatched on a call, resulting in the uploading of thousands of videos, says SPD Detective Patrick Michaud.
“We like to be extra¬ordinarily transparent when it comes to things like video,” he says.
“The intent is to capture video of officer interactions,” the SPD Public Affairs Department stated in a post on the city’s website, prior to the deployment. “The footage can be used as evidence against suspects, and help monitor the behavior of officers. In addition, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that most research on the use of body-worn cameras ‘document a reduction in citizen complaints against the police and, in some cases, similar reductions in use of force and assaults on officers.’”
The city worked with a local computer programmer notorious for filing requests for public records. The programmer helped build software that automatically redacts the videos, eliminating sound or blurring the video to protect people’s privacy, Michaud says.
Nearly all of the videos on the YouTube channel have been redacted. The police department has currently uploaded 2,591 videos to the channel. Many are only a few minutes long, but some last 15 minutes or longer.
The channel does include a 24-minute video that was posted on June 25, 2015, and was made public in unredacted form“through public disclosure,”according to the channel. The video was recorded on May 1, 2015, when protestors clashed with police following May Day rallies in Seattle, the Seattle Times reported.
The Seattle Police Department plans to purchase body cameras for each of its 1,500 officers. While there’s no timetable for deployment, Michaud says he expects the department will continue to post all body-cam videos.