It's no surprise to police accountability activists that the Seattle Police Department's dash-cam video system is flawed and only 40 percent of public disclosure requests for video footage are successfully fulfilled, according to a new city auditor's report. Which is why civilians, lawyers, and news agencies alike have sued the department for misplacing videos or stonewalling access to known footage.
Today the Office of City Auditor released a report (.pdf) highlighting six ways the department could improve the its ability to create, retain, and locate dashcam videos—most notably, by considering giving select civilians—the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) Civilian Auditor and City Attorney's Office—access to the dashcam video database. Currently, only department's video unit can access these videos, so this would be a striking change in procedure.
"Such access should be accompanied by appropriate training, supervision, and security controls to ensure that the recordings are handled with due care," the report notes. (Duh.) Obviously, it would also promote transparency and expedite a good chunk of video requests.
Considering that Bruce Harrell, chair of the city council's public safety committee, is pushing hard for police body cams in addition to the dashcams, a report like this should not be ignored. Here's the full list of recommendations to improve the department's ability to create, retain, and locate video records when requested:
1) Implement SPD’s planned improvements—a new retention schedule for videos and moving all recordings to the COBAN video storage system—before expanding the program further.
2) Prioritize new technology and equipment—new in-car video recording hardware and software and new patrol vehicles—that enables officers to reliably create and retain recordings.
3) Create one electronic request form that lists all the information SPD's Video Unit needs to conduct an efficient archival search.
4) Implement a system for locating multiple video recordings pertaining to one specific event—i.e., when more than one officer responds to a call. "One option is for SPD to obtain or enable in‐car video software that automatically records Global Positioning System (GPS) data for patrol vehicle location when a recording is made," the report states. "This would provide Video Unit staff with a more precise set of data to search for video. It would also allow them to identify all videos recorded at a particular location, date, and time." Sounds swift and nifty!
5) Explore giving COBAN database access to staff in additional SPD units, such as the Public Disclosure Unit, the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), and the OPA Civilian Auditor, as well as the City Attorney’s Office.
6) Direct the Video Unit to develop a simple, uniform system for recording the receipt of and work performed on each request for video recordings (name, date, work completed, etc).
And those are just the study's highlights!
Of course, the land of recommendations is located seven lovely seas away from the land of balanced city budgets, so it remains to be seen how many of these recommendations are fiscally feasible.