Media & Communications Law

Police put brakes on body-camera plan, citing records request; earlier dashcam suits were costly

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A plan to equip more than 1,000 police officers in Seattle with body cameras may not fly, due to the potential cost of citizen public records requests, officials say.

A Tuesday request by an individual known only by his email address, [email protected], sought a broad swath of police records, the Seattle Times reports. They included information about 911 calls, police reports concerning responses to the calls, and details of what comes up every time a police officer runs a computer search on a license plate or an individual’s name.

Due to privacy concerns, the department can’t simply turn over video, which may show crime victims, abused children and bloody crime scenes, but must scrub it of certain information, police officials say. That can be a time-consuming process and, although those who request records can be charged copying costs, they can’t be charged for staff time needed to scrub them under Washington’s public records law.

The man who sought the records on Tuesday is a computer programmer in his twenties who maintains a Youtube page about police activities, the newspaper says.

Another computer expert previously created a searchable website of Seattle police dashcam video. The Seattle Weekly reported in 2012 that he won a $60,000 settlement from the police for withholding dashcam video and another $10,000 for false arrest.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs plans to ask state lawmakers in January to amend the state’s public records law to make it harder for individuals to pursue exhaustive requests for such law enforcement material.

Meanwhile, not just Seattle but other municipalities throughout the state have put plans to equip police with body cameras on hold, the newspaper reports.

See also: “Seattle Sues Lawyer Who Requests Police Dash-Cam Videos”

Seattle Weekly: “James Egan Awarded $14,675.25 in Dash-Cam Lawsuit - Far Less Than He Requested “

The Stranger: “Lawsuit Accuses SPD Chief of Withholding Dash-Cam Video of Brutal Police Beating “

KOMO: “Records show Seattle police lost thousands of dashcam recordings”

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