Legislature Laying Groundwork For Seattle Cop Cams

A group of state legislators are working to clear one of the biggest obstacles preventing the Seattle Police Department from equipping officers with body-mounted cameras.

The wearable cameras have become a hot topic in Seattle, as the city and police department grapple with accountability issues in the wake of a damning probe by the Department of Justice.

The city’s has been looking into the cameras since 2008 at the behest of Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, but they havent’ been widely deployed within the police department due to challenges from the police union and other legal issues with the cameras.

The biggest legal hurdle lies in Washington’s privacy laws, which currently require two-party consent for recording audio, which presents problems for the police cameras.

Now, Sen. Adam Kline (D-37, S. Seattle)—along with Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) and Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36 Ballard)—are working to create an exemption that would allow law enforcement officers to wear the cameras and record audio and video. The legislature previously created a similar exemption for cameras mounted in patrol cars. The new exemption would also prohibit officers from “intentionally” turning off audio on their wearable cameras.

Harrell—who’s lobbied heavily for the SPD to start using cop cams—is scheduled to testify in support of the bill today.

UPDATE:

Today’s hearing on the bill highlighted some problems with the state’s complex public disclosure laws. Language in the legislation would prevent police from turning over video recorded by officers’ body cams until after the statute of limitations on a related civil or criminal case runs out. That would make it impossible, for instance, for a victim of police misconduct to obtain the videos for use in a civil suit against the city.

It looks like the bill’s going to need some revision before it moves forward.