Police Union Trying to Block SPD From Reviewing Patrol Videos

The Seattle Police Department and Seattle Police Officers Guild are locked in a legal battle over who should have access to videos recorded from officers’ patrol cars, with the guild accusing SPD management of using the tapes for “disciplinary fishing expeditions.”

Earlier this year, the Seattle Police Officers Guild filed a labor complaint with the state after command staff within the department began reviewing videos filmed by officers’ in-car cameras in February.

The police guild fired off an Unfair Labor Practice complaint to the state, contending SPOG’s contract says in-car videos are only supposed to be available to the Office of Professional Accountability for reviewing misconduct claims.

“This was done to prevent management personnel from engaging in fishing expeditions for the purposes of generating complaints” against officers, SPOG’s complaint says, noting that the department did not notify the guild when command staff began reviewing videos.

As a result of the guild’s complaint—which demanded the department “cease and desist” reviewing the tapes—a state labor board has issued a preliminary finding that the department may be in violation of the guild’s contract.

It’s not entirely clear why commanders began reviewing in-car videos earlier this year, but several department sources pointed to East Precinct’s Captain Jim Dermody as one of the command staff members going on so-called “fishing expeditions.”

The department, naturally, disputes that Dermody or other captains are out of line in reviewing officers’ in-car videos.

“Captain Dermody and others routinely review in-car footage in accordance with the police department manual,” says SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb.”He’s doing his job. He’s doing it in accordance with the police department manual.”

Whitcomb says command staff are only reviewing videos for “administrative investigations,” such as use of force or police pursuit incidents.

SPOG President Rich O’Neill declined to comment on the labor complaint.

The guild’s claim against the department is scheduled for further review by the board in February 2012.

In addition to the flak the police department is taking for its internal use of in-car video, the department is also facing a lawsuit from KOMO News, which has filed suit against SPD in an attempt gain access to in-car videos.