Category Archives: Body camera

Seattle Allows Filming Cops

 

Image result for record the police

Great article in the Seattle Times by Daniel Beekman discusses how Seattle’s City Council voted Monday to enshrine in the Seattle Municipal Code the rights of the public to observe, record and criticize police activity without fear of retaliation.

 The only exceptions are when an observer hinders, delays or compromises legitimate police activity, threatens someone’s safety or attempts to incite other people to violence, according to the ordinance sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

The First Amendment can offer protections to members of the public when they watch and record police. And a Seattle Police Department policy adopted in 2008 says bystanders may remain nearby and record the incident as long as they don’t interfere.

So, people already were allowed to watch and record police in Seattle. But the council’s vote means the rights of police observers are now recognized in city law.

According to Beekman, the ordinance says officers should assume members of the public are observing and possibly recording their work at all times. Councilmember Herbold initially proposed the change last year, pointing to high-profile shootings that was recorded by bystanders.

 “The value of video and audio recordings by the public is keenly evident from the recordings in 2016 of the deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge … and law-enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge,” the ordinance says.

Across the country, smartphones are helping regular people hold their police departments accountable. But people watching, recording and criticizing officers have in some instances been arrested, according to a council memo.

Though Seattle police are recorded by patrol-car cameras and are being outfitted with body-worn cameras, civilian recordings are still important, Herbold said Monday.

My opinion? Wonderful! I’ve had many Clients complain that their attempts to record interactions with police result in their cameras being confiscated and being slapped with charges of Obstructing and Resisting police.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: recording interactions between police and citizens makes everyone behave better and shows proof of what really happened. Kudos to the Seattle City Council.

I-873: Police Accountability

Image result for I-873: Police Accountability

We’ve all heard it. Killings by police in the line of duty have surged in Washington and the United States over the past decade, according to a Seattle Times analysis. During that period, only one police officer has been criminally charged in state courts with the illegal use of deadly force on the job.

In fact, that case is the only one to be brought in the three decades since Washington enacted the nation’s most restrictive law on holding officers accountable for the unjustified use of deadly force.

Not This Time! and Washington For Good Policing (W4GP) are a grass-roots movements that evolved from the  killing by the Seattle Police Department of Mr. Che Andre Taylor on February 21, 2016. The campaigns  are working to collect 350,000 signatures to put Initiative 873 in front of Washington State’s legislature in January 2017.

This is the first legislative initiative of its kind in the nation that would put forth police accountability. If passed, the legislative initiative may be a model for other states.

The initiative appears to be gaining momentum. It is endorsed by the Seattle Police Department, the ACLU of Washington, numerous state senators, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, Kshama Sawant and Lorena Gonzalez of the Seattle City Council, Lisa Duggaard of the Public Defenders Association, Jim Cooper and Jessica Bateman of the Olympia City Council.

Also, the following newspapers and media outlets have discussed and encouraged the passage of the bill:

It’s refreshing that I-873 has such a broad range of support, especially from the Seattle Police Department. Let’s move forward with the hope that holding officers accountable for unjustified shootings increases respect for police and professionalism within police ranks. For sure, it’s step in the right direction.

Bellingham Police Department Body Cameras Now Mandatory

A news article by Samantha Wohlfiel from of the Bellingham Herald reports that starting this July, Bellingham Police Department (BPD) will require all uniformed patrol officers to wear and use body cameras.

In 2014, the BPD started a voluntary program, allowing officers to use a body camera if they were willing. Now, Police Chief Cliff Cook has decided all uniformed patrol officers will need to wear the cameras while on duty:

“I think the original pilot and then the past year and a half … has shown us that having the videos is not only beneficial in cases of prosecution of individuals for crimes, as evidence of the actions of our officers, especially when they’re appropriate . . .  It also generally helps us resolve disputes or disagreements about what may have transpired between an officer and a citizen much more quickly and in a more definitive way.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Initially, 18 officers volunteered for Bellingham’s program, and currently 34 officers are using the cameras, Cook said. He also mentioned that his police officers have noted that people often change their behavior for the better when they’re told they’re being filmed.

One of the main concerns for officers and community members has been privacy, Cook said:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

Basically, the “policy” requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

The department has a mix of cameras, some that are clipped on a lapel, others that are worn on glasses, but both have easily been knocked off in situations where officers were restraining someone, Cook said, so the department may shift toward other models.

Between 2014 and 2016, the total program cost has been $315,250, which includes things such as all hardware (the cameras, clips, glasses they sit on, etc.), software and docking stations, Cook told the council.

According to the article, the projected costs moving forward are about $35,000 to $56,000 per year each of the next two years for renewed data storage management.

Another concern was, of course, privacy:

“One of the concerns we talked about was the overriding concern about creating video of individuals in pretty personally trying situations that involve personal privacy, such as mental illness, or a domestic violence call in a private residence, or interviewing the victim of a crime. So there are provisions within the policy where officers are given discretion on whether they want to turn that camera on or not.”

~Police Chief Cliff Cook

The current policy requires that officers turn on the cameras for any enforcement activity, an arrest, use of force or where they believe there will be the need to use force.

My opinion? This is a step in the right direction. Body cameras make everyone behave better. They also catch evidence of what really transpired. Good move, BPD.

Police Body Cameras: Privacy & Costs

A recent article from the New York Times titled, Downside of Police Body Cameras: Your Arrest Hits Youtube has reignited the discussion of whether police body cameras are worth the trouble.

Recently, law enforcement agencies from around the country have been moving with unusual speed to equip officers with body cameras to film their encounters with the public. But the adoption of these cameras has created a new conflict over who has the right to view the recordings.

In Seattle, where some officers started wearing body cameras, the department has set up its own YouTube channel, broadcasting a stream of blurred images to protect the privacy of people filmed. Much of this footage is uncontroversial; one scene shows a woman jogging past a group of people and an officer watching her, then having a muted conversation with people whose faces have been obscured.

Interestingly enough, very intense public discussion of the issue is happening here in Washington State. Under RCW 42.56, which is Washington State’s Public Disclosure Law, anyone may file a public records request to obtain body camera recordings.

In Bremerton, Chief Strachan tested body cameras last fall before deciding NOT to purchase them. He said the demands the department had received for video during the testing period had been too burdensome.

“We got a request for any and all video shot by a police officer,” he said. “It’s pretty much impossible.”

In nearby King County, Sheriff John Urquhart said he would not equip his deputies with cameras until lawmakers reworked disclosure rules.

“I’d do it in a heartbeat,” he said, “but if the public wants body cameras, they’re going to have to give something up on public disclosure.”

My opinion? Some of the concerns mentioned above appear warranted, however, others do not. True, it’s concerning for a DV victim’s likeness and images to appear on YouTube. It might even violate their privacy. RCW 42.56.050 states, “A person’s ‘right to privacy,’ ‘right of privacy,’ ‘privacy,’ or ‘personal privacy,’ as these terms are used in this chapter, is invaded or violated only if disclosure of information about the person: (1) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (2) is not of legitimate concern to the public.”

Under this, body camera evidence which violates people’s privacy rights might form the basis to support a civil lawsuit against police agencies which readily release that information without redacting people’s likeness and images. Indeed, under RCW 42.56.240, that information is exempt from Public Disclosure. In addressing this problem, it’s comforting that the Seattle The department broadcasts its footage on its own YouTube channel with people’s faces obscured and conversations muted to protect the privacy of people being filmed.

However, I disagree with the Bremerton police chief’s decision to refuse a body camera program altogether because it costs his agency too much money/resources to properly grant people’s public disclosure requests. Under RCW 42.56.120, a reasonable charge may be imposed for providing copies of public records. That makes sense. Police agencies should charge fees when they use their resources to inspect and copy requested material.

Here, the key is what a “reasonable” fee implies. Although law enforcement agencies should charge comparable costs to the consumer for using their resources to inspecting and copy requested materials, the charges should not be overly expensive. For example, in Florida, the Sarasota Police Department has temporarily halted its body camera program after an ACLU Florida lawyer sued over the costs of obtaining footage. The city said it would charge $18,000 for 84 hours of video to be placed on DVDs — about $214 per hour of video.

Police body cameras are a great idea. They put everyone on their best behavior. Let’s work through the bugs and restrain ourselves from throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

WA Attorney General Says Police Do NOT Need Consent to Record Citizen Activities With Body Cameras

Bad decision.

Conversations between law enforcement and members of the public may be recorded on police body cameras without citizen consent, according to an opinion issued today by Washington State Attorney General’s Office. The opinion is linked below, as well as news articles describing the recent decision:

http://www.atg.wa.gov/AGOOpinions/opinion.aspx?section=archive&id=32439#.VHNwUPnF-CY

http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/nov/24/washington-attorney-general-opines-on-cop-cams/

http://seattle.cbslocal.com/2014/11/24/washington-attorney-general-opines-on-cop-cams/

The AG’s opinion said conversations between law enforcement and the public are generally considered public, even if they take place inside a private residence. Washington law requires two-party consent to record private conversations, but that standard does NOT apply to public ones.

Legal precedent is less clear about an officer recording a conversation between two members of the public, since no case law addresses the subject directly. But the AGO said the Washington State Supreme Court has “strongly indicated” conversations between two people are not private when they know a police officer is present.

Recently, Bellingham Police officers are being outfitted with body cameras which would record all official interactions with citizens, even inside private residences (please read my related blog titled, “Bellingham Police Start Using Body Cameras” below)

http://ransom-lawfirm.com/blog/?p=1276

The main issues of the AG’s opinion are stated below:

  1. The Washington Privacy Act, RCW 9.73, does not require the consent of a law enforcement officer to use body cameras attached to police uniforms. A local collective bargaining agreement, however, might limit or prohibit such use.
  2. Conversations between law enforcement officers and members of the public are not generally considered private for purposes of the Privacy Act.
  3. As a general matter, the Privacy Act does not require a law enforcement officer to cease recording a conversation at the request of a citizen, because such conversations are not private to begin with.
  4. In order to use a recording as evidence in a criminal or civil case, the recording would be subject to the same laws and rules governing all evidence, including the requirement that the chain of custody be established to prove no tampering has occurred. Laws relating to the retention and disclosure of public records, including records retention schedules, would govern retention and disclosure of recordings.
  5. RCW 9.73.090 does not limit the use of body cameras to the use of such cameras in conjunction with vehicle-mounted cameras.   

My opinion? I was on board with the body cameras until the AG’s Office basically gave police officers permission to circumvent the privacy rights of citizens. Look, the average citizen on the street does NOT assert their Constitutional right to refuse to speak to police officers. Nor does the average citizen refuse to grant an officer’s request to search the citizen’s home or car. Police can be very persuasive in exercising their authority. So this AG opinion said conversations between law enforcement and the public are generally considered public? Even if the conversations are NOT consensual and take place inside a private residence? Unbelievable! Bad decision.

Bellingham Police Start Using Body Cameras

Finally, a step in the right direction.

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/08/05/3784847_bellingham-police-to-start-using.html?rh=1

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Bellingham-Police–277984681.html

In an effort to reduce use-of-force complaints, Bellingham Police officers are now wearing cameras to record audio and video of their interactions with the public. The department is among the first to use the new equipment that now allows citizens to see crimes from an officer’s perspective.

Officers are wearing two cameras — one on their chests and another mounted on collars, glasses or hats.

The Bellingham Police Department has provided officers with guidelines for when they should activate the cameras. Some include traffic stops, arrests, or situations involving aggressive suspects.

Police don’t need to ask for permission to record  if they’re in public but they will tell you if the camera is on. However, if an officer is in a private residence he or she is required to get the homeowner’s permission to record.

My opinion? Excellent decision. My hat is off to the Bellingham Police for making a pro-active decision toward this effort. I strongly believe having body cameras makes EVERYONE — both cops and citizens — behave better. even better, the cameras should provide evidence of whether police misconduct happens in some cases. Very good.

My only concern is the privacy issues. Will police will secretly turn these cameras on when searching people’s houses? And if so, can the police attempt to use the surveillance video captured by the cameras as evidence of possession of contraband/weapons? As long as police are informing citizens that conversations and searches are being recorded (and as long as the police get the citizen’s consent to search ON CAMERA) then the searches are probably not intrusive and/or violations of a citizen’s constitutional rights. We’ll see.



Alexander F. Ransom

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense Lawyer

119 North Commercial St.
Suite #1420
Bellingham, WA 98225

Phone: (360) 746-2642
Fax: (360) 746-2949

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