Body Worn Video Steering Group

Challenges Bodycams Present to Seattle PD

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In an age where we are constantly post-(shootings, riots, etc.)  police forces who managed to gain notoriety for their brutality, for example the City of Seattle PD, have found themselves learning how to restore faith between cops and community – and how bodycams play their part.

Mike Wagers, Seattle, Police, Department

NPR‘s Audie Cornish talks with the Seattle Police Department’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers about the challenges that bodycams and dashcams present to the department.

Cornish: Can body cameras or making the video from cameras really restore trust, especially when a department has lost it?

WAGERS: No, and we said that from the beginning. The cameras are not a panacea, right? So if you already have a huge gap – a chasm, between citizens and police – if you have that deficit already, then you have a lot of other things that you need to do along with implementing cameras. Fortunately here in – it’s really unfortunate, but it’s really fortunate – here in the city of Seattle, we’re under a federal consent decree*.

Unfortunate that we got to that point, but fortunate that that has caused us to have to change so many things about how we do business from, for example, the training that we provide to our officers.

One example is providing bias-free training to every officer in the department or making sure that we have every single officer trained in crisis intervention, dealing with mentally ill suspects. So we’ve been able to take advantage of what the federal consent decree has brought us and then tie the cameras into that.

CORNISH: A good deal of policing involves really personal moments – right? – whether it be incidents of domestic violence to drunkenness. What kind of privacy protections are there by law?

WAGERS: Yeah. Well, I mean, there are privacy protections about what video we can release. But, you know, really, the question is when you get that one-on-one interaction between that officer and that citizen, whether it’s a sexual assault, whether somebody engaged in some sort of disturbance, when do you turn the camera on?

When do you turn the camera off? There are calls to have it on all the time and then use technology to make sure that you’re not capturing moments when people are in crisis and making that stuff public – not only just making sure you adhere to your state law, but, you know, its sort of common sense. You’re not going to – you don’t want to re-victimize a victim of some of these very heinous crimes that officers deal with on a daily basis.

View the full interview transcript here

*A consent decree is an agreement or settlement to resolve a dispute between two parties without admission of guilt (in a criminal case) or liability (in a civil case) and most often refers to such a type of settlement in the United States.

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