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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Website That Shows Every Police Video Made By the Seattle Police Department

Posted by on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 10:23 AM

an SPD dash-cam video surfaced that shows officers apprehending Miguel Oregon for reckless driving in March 2010, when one of officers said, “If it weren’t for my badge, I’d skull-fuck you and drag you down the street.†Officers were suspended for 15 to 20 days but returned to their jobs. Charges against Oregon were dropped.
  • SPD patrol car footage
  • SPD dash-cam video showing officers apprehending Miguel Oregon for reckless driving in March 2010, when one of officers said, "If it weren't for my badge, I'd skull-fuck you and drag you down the street." Charges against Oregon were later dropped.
To address the Seattle Police Department's chronic use of excessive force against suspects and refusing to provide video evidence, one Seattle man has created an online archive of SPD's police car dash-cam footage for people intent on pursuing their grievances in court.

The bare-bones website is called It's a searchable database that registers every dash-cam video logged by every police car in SPD's fleet from August 2008 to August 2011. The site doesn't feature the videos themselves; rather, it catalogs videos, receipt like, so that citizens can order a copy from SPD via a public disclosure request. The videos can be searched by date, time, and officer's name or serial number.

"For years, the Seattle Police Department has routinely concealed in-car video recordings from defendants, from citizens who complain about police misconduct, from the media, and from the public," says Eric Rachner, who created the site. "The purpose of this website is to keep them honest about what videos got made when court cases arise."

Rachner says his intent is to increase access to videos that police refuse to provide or otherwise make difficult to request. For example, Komo news's recent story about a dash-cam video of police threatening to make up evidence about suspects, or attorney James Egan's stymied attempts to access 36 police dash-cam videos involving officers with a track record of misconduct (the city is currently suing both Egan and Komo to stop the release of the videos, citing conflicting state public disclosure and privacy laws).

And officially, the department supports what Rachner is doing.

"We certainly don't have a problem with it—we support it," says SPD Sergeant Sean Whitcomb, a spokesman for the department. "It’s a third-party solution where people are taking information and making it more available to the public in the spirit of open information. I, personally, congratulate him."

Here's how Rachner does it: He scans local news stories for high-profile cases and contacts the victims (or their lawyers) to tell them how to check his database for confirmation of video evidence. It's not a business venture; Rachner charges nothing for his services. "I’ve reached out to three or four people engaged in lawsuits with the city and said, 'Hey I don’t know if they’ve been honest with you but there’s record of your incident,'" Rachner explains.

He decided to launch the website after his own incredible clash with the department.

In 2008, Rachner was briefly arrested for refusing to provide identification to Seattle police officers responding to an urban golf assault. Rachner filed a complaint against the officers with SPD's Office of Professional Accountability, claiming that the arrest was unlawful because his actions weren't illegal. The officers were cleared of misconduct by the OPA, and Rachner was charged with misdemeanor obstruction. "I got hauled into no fewer than four court hearings over a seven-month period," says Rachner. "It felt like retaliation."

When Rachner asked SPD for video evidence, via a public disclosure request, of his arrest to help prove his case, he was told by officials that it didn't exist. "Then I googled Coban—the dashcam video system SPD uses—and found out that they have a permanent activity log of every video that is stored on their cameras for three years," he explains. "I asked SPD for the video logs and that’s when their demeanor changed." The logs proved that there was not just one video of his arrest—there were seven separate videos that had been accessed and watched by the OPA. So he sued the department in 2010 for failing to turn over the videos.

Rachner settled that lawsuit and a second lawsuit filed in 2011—this time for false arrest and obstruction of justice—with the city for upwards of $110,000. Still, the matter didn't feel settled. "Dealing with police who are charging you for a crime they know you didn't commit can obliterate your faith in the department," he says. "And watching the OPA exonerate those officers for their crimes will kill your faith in justice."

So Rancher asked SPD for all the video data going back three years and got back 1,105 results. "I decided to do a retrospective analysis of who else they haven’t gotten their videos," he says. This serves another purpose: Rachner is using the database to check the credibility of each civilian use-of-force complaint against an officer that the OPA has exonerated over the last three years.

He estimates that there have been 397 allegations of stemming from about 250 individual incidents, "and none of them were sustained," he says. "About half of those incidents have video that the victims or their lawyers could access." (Side note: Using Rachner's three-year time frame and the OPA's monthly reports, I counted 321 allegations of unnecessary force, of which three incidents were sustained, or 0.9 percent. In contrast, the Department of Justice has estimated that SPD engages in unnecessary force 20 percent of the time.)

The database has limits: It can only be searched if an individual has an officer's name or serial number, and only includes logs from August 2008 to August 2011. But that will soon change—Rachner plans on filing a new PDR every quarter for updated information."And I’m just going to keep filing quarterly refresher PDR requests now until the end of time to ensure that the data's current," he says.


Comments (17) RSS

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Cascadian Bacon 18

Your video shows the King County Sheriff, not SPD.

Throwing a bunch of money around 3rd and pine, although it was pretty cool , it also amounts to inciting a riot.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on February 19, 2012 at 4:26 PM · Report this
AndyBlue 17
It is DISGUSTING what Seattle police get away with. Total Corruption. Every single officer KNEW we didnt have accountability all these years and kept their mouths shut. Our so-called civillian oversight director of the OPA Kathryn Olson earned over 700,000.00 these past few years giving the impression we had accountability yet she still sits in that cushy job that she failed miserably at. She also reports directly to the mayor the city council and the police chief so NONE of them can claim ignorance. I call that fraud on all the tax payers. Now we are going to pay 4 more people to oversee the director who oversees accountability. Does this make any sense? Seattle is being defrauded by our entire police department and our elected officials. Its Pathetic!

Posted by AndyBlue on February 17, 2012 at 7:46 PM · Report this
@15: Just following orders, right?
Posted by Phil M on February 17, 2012 at 5:01 PM · Report this
But Sean Whitcomb is really a genuinely nice guy. He doesn't get to say what he really thinks; his bosses give him a script that he has to stick to. We live in a culture of lying, top down, that permeates every part of our lives, public and private. If we citizens didn't tolerate and even support lying with our consumer $$$$, things would change. Ever heard "We get the government we deserve."?
Posted by SeaPD on February 17, 2012 at 4:00 PM · Report this

Cops still acting like fucking THUGS, screaming at people, threatening, saying STUPID SHIT, calling people names. Are they EVER going to fucking learn? Granted this stunt was performed in a pretty poor area---a bus stop, with buses coming and going incessantly. But cops seem to be COMPLETELY unable to deal with the public AT ALL anymore! A streetgang unto themselves.
Posted by cattycat on February 17, 2012 at 3:33 AM · Report this
Add Whitcomb to the list of city assholes who NEED TO GO. McGinn, Diaz, O'Neill', and now WHITCOMB. Trust the sytem? Which system? You mean the system that EXONERATES bad cops CONSTANTLY, allows MURDEROUS COPS to go free, and leads to citizens being profiled, beaten, and MURDERED?
Posted by cattycat on February 16, 2012 at 5:51 PM · Report this
What Now? 11
From the KOMO story on the officer who declared he was going to "make stuff up" to charge two men with robbery:

We showed Seattle Police Sergeant Sean Whitcomb the arrest video, and he admits the 'make stuff up' comment was inappropriate. But he says the department's Office of Professional Accountability investigated the complaint and exonerated the officer.

"I can tell you we take (complaints) seriously but people have to believe that and they have to trust the system they have to trust the process," Whitcomb said.

We asked Whitcomb if the department was going to hold officers accountable when dashboard cameras aren't turned on.

"We do, we actually do, look at our OPA reports," Whitcomb said. But when we reminded him it didn't happen in this case, he said, "well maybe not in that case, but there's other cases."
Posted by What Now? on February 16, 2012 at 1:38 PM · Report this
What Now? 10
This is brilliant. Eric Rachner is providing an absolutely critical service here.
Posted by What Now? on February 16, 2012 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 9
Eric Rachner is a god damn hero. Eric, if you're reading this, thank you.

Now I can only hope you become the gadget guy for Phoenix Jones.
Posted by Westlake, son! on February 16, 2012 at 12:09 PM · Report this
Posted by shaneleopard on February 16, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Report this
rob! 7
Your OPA has zero credibility. You need a new citizen review board reporting to the city council, plus all that other stuff Joe Sz. has been saying recently. Why McGinn's palling around with stadium patent-medicine-men instead of real mayoring is beyond me.

It's interesting to follow Cienna's "urban golf assault" link and read the scornful comments at the time ("nerf ball=assault," "cap his ass," etc.).
Posted by rob! on February 16, 2012 at 11:26 AM · Report this
nice work nerds
Posted by Swearengen on February 16, 2012 at 10:59 AM · Report this
Hernandez 5
"We certainly don't have a problem with it—we support it." Suuuure. And all excessive force complaints are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated too, right Sean? Whitcomb is so full of shit, I'm surprised he doesn't turn into a septic tank during a full moon.
Posted by Hernandez on February 16, 2012 at 10:53 AM · Report this
briantrice 4
The link to the subject of the article, the website, is (absurdly) broken. Please format it with the URL schema "http://" so it's not a relative URL. Like this:
Posted by briantrice on February 16, 2012 at 10:45 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 3
Your link to the site is broken.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 16, 2012 at 10:40 AM · Report this
We should consider just firing all of SPD and starting over from scratch.
Posted by Tyler Pierce on February 16, 2012 at 10:38 AM · Report this
How long before the Police Guild buy the URL and lay it to waste?
Posted by neo-realist on February 16, 2012 at 10:36 AM · Report this

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