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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Seattle Cops Could Wear Cameras By Next Year

Posted by on Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Taser International Chairman Tom Smith displays the AXON head camera
  • Taser International Chairman Tom Smith displays the AXON head camera
If Seattle City Council Member Bruce Harrell can put together a budget and get it approved by Mayor Mike McGinn, Seattle cops could start wearing trial video cameras by next year. Harrell called a brown bag discussion at City Hall yesterday afternoon to hear about competing video camera technologies before the council's regular Energy, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee meeting.

Although the Seattle Police Department experimented with body cameras on a very small scale in 2008, it was called off because the Seattle police union complained. The guild asked that cameras not be placed on officers until it negotiated with the Seattle City Council on work conditions. But Harrell said the discussion was timely. "There is technology out there, we should use it," he said.

However, Harrell agreed that body cameras raised a number of policy issues. "I am very concerned about whether the officers are receptive to this and whether there are privacy and labor issues involved," he said. Harrell said that representatives from the police union had not been able to attend the discussion because of a time conflict.

Representatives from two video camera companies made their pitch to the committee. While either body or head video cameras might result in similar savings for the city, Tom Smith, chairman of Taser International, stressed that head cameras provided "a better perspective of what’s going on."

"It's going to be focused more on what the officer is looking at," Smith said. But Steve Ward, a former Seattle police officer who started VIEVU, which specializes in small body cameras, said that head cameras were dangerous for the officer and its cords could result in strangulation. "It also makes the officer more aggressive, more robocopish," Ward said. VIEVU's biggest international client is the United Kingdom police.

Ward said he had thought of the body camera technology when he was a police officer with the SPD in the 90s. "Our cameras are easy to use," he said. "We have one switch for on and off."

More after the jump

Ward said that the SPD's Office of Professional Accountability had recorded 1442 complaints in 2009 at a cost of $7.5 million. According to him, a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) shows that video documentation reduced complaints by 50 percent." "People behave differently when they are on camera," Ward said. "Both officers and citizens are more professional. People who would have complaints would withdraw them after they were told that video evidence exists."

If every police officer in Seattle wears a camera it could potentially reduce costs by $3.5 million annually, Ward said.

According to IACP, 96 percent of prosecutors reported that defendants were more likely to plea when video evidence was present. When Harrell asked who controlled the cameras, Ward said it was typically dictated by departmental policy. "Usually officers will turn it on when practical," he said. VEIVU's cameras have four hours of battery life and 4 hours memory. Officers cannot alter or delete any video files. "We wanted our software to be just as easy as the camera," said Ward. "So think iTunes, but for a camera." The price tag for putting these cameras on 65 officers in the SPD? $616,465.

Taser International's AXON head cameras—which are designed in conjunction with CISCO and IBM—have a 10-hour battery life and 8 hours of recording time. Officers have to double tap to start recording. Smith said that a six-month pilot project in UK with a head camera set-up received a 90 percent public approval rate. "There were no complaints against officers with head cams," he said. Smith added that AXON's automatic data retrieval system eliminates the need of a person to download it.

Harrell said he had not yet decided whether head or body cameras would be the right fit for Seattle. "I don't want to get into a PC vs Mac debate here, there's no right or wrong," he said. "Both have their pros and cons."

The SPD already has video cameras in 275 police vehicles. SPD Assistant Chief Dick Reed said that those cameras were coming to the end of their life span. SPD is currently investigating replacement options. Harrell said he was interested in exploring whether it was feasible to replace the car cameras with head or body cameras.


Comments (16) RSS

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I had considered that, but even including the hard & software and a couple of techs to babysit it, that still seems like an excessive cost.
Posted by COMTE on July 10, 2010 at 9:02 AM · Report this
Christampa 17
I assume I'm not the only guy who looks down when I pee, right?
Posted by Christampa on July 9, 2010 at 11:34 PM · Report this
Steven Bradford 15
The cost probably includes the download system/network for cataloging storing and archiving all the video in a way that is searchable and easily accessible, which is not a trivial task if it's going to be useful. The camera is just the beginning of the chain, so I really doubt the cameras are the entire cost.
Posted by Steven Bradford on July 9, 2010 at 8:28 AM · Report this
$10,000 per camera seems ridiculously expensive. I can walk into a Best Buy right now and purchase a compact web cam for less than $60. Add a USB cord, a flash-drive recording device and battery pack to last through an 8 hour shift, and the total cost should come to no more than $500 each.


I suppose that's true, but if the camera isn't on, it would just make it all that much easier for civilians to claim it was deliberately turned off for the very reason you cite. The camera's are just as much insurance for the cops as they are for citizens, so I would think the police would have good incentive to keep them running during interactions with the public.
Posted by COMTE on July 8, 2010 at 10:37 PM · Report this
So if these cameras can easily be turned off, whats to stop a police officer from turning it off before he does anything illegal? Don't be surprised if the footage always seems to side with the officers, and any incriminating actions always go unrecorded.
Posted by UNPAID COMMENTER on July 8, 2010 at 3:22 PM · Report this
The data from the UK doesn't really translate to over here. Police there usually don't carry guns or very many of the vaguely militaristic accoutrements our cops do over here. And they tend to be a lot less aggro (not sure if this is due to the significantly lower number of handguns available or what). All of which means interactions between police and everyday folks are less likely to lead to misconduct in the form of excessive force. Though verbal and other types of misconduct may still happen.
Posted by bookworm on July 8, 2010 at 2:34 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 11
@10 good point, wagina.

Posted by Will in Seattle on July 8, 2010 at 2:30 PM · Report this
Why is the city entertaining a proposal from Taser? Aren't they from Arizona? Aren't we not doing business there now?
Posted by wagina on July 8, 2010 at 1:41 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 9
Why don't they just buy cell phones like the rest of us?

They talk on them while driving often enough ...
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 8, 2010 at 1:18 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 8
everyone will wear them in the near future.
Posted by Max Solomon on July 8, 2010 at 1:12 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 7
@6 these sorts of cameras aren't about lowering crime rates.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on July 8, 2010 at 12:54 PM · Report this
Sir Vic 5
Seattle has huge budget crisis that will result in police officers being laid off, and yet they are looking at spending 600k on gadgets?!

I'll take two extra cops working Belltown & Pioneer Square instead.
Posted by Sir Vic on July 8, 2010 at 12:35 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 4
"head cameras were dangerous for the officer and its cords could result in strangulation" If our police force is in danger of being strangled by their headphone cords, we need to seriously redesign our hiring standards.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on July 8, 2010 at 12:30 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 3
There really is little downside to this from the public perspective that I can see (correct me if wrong) and I am definitely normally in the "less CCTV" camp. This protects both the public and the cops, but there has to be an enforceable (read: with penalty) way to make the cops use it as required.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on July 8, 2010 at 12:14 PM · Report this
Let's just get Robocop.
Posted by g on July 8, 2010 at 12:13 PM · Report this
I am 7 of 9. Resistance is futile.

I wonder if you can strap these things on your waist or leg and use them for a cock cam.
Posted by Reg on July 8, 2010 at 12:03 PM · Report this

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