Eric Rachner and Phil Mocek, who co-founded the Center for Open Policing along with Ben Livingston, just got another huge check from the Seattle Police Department—after they sued to obtain GPS data showing the locations of patrol cars. Kelly O

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Seattle's unofficial civilian police oversight board—the Center for Open Policing, which seeks to make the SPD more transparent through massive public records requests—is going to finally get its hands on GPS data for patrol car locations.

Why did they want this information? "They're tracking where these vehicles go," said the center's co-founder, Phil Mocek. "And that information is public record. We should have access to it. There are lots of reasons why people might want to study where police cars go. They might want to find out if the mayor's neighborhood has extra policing. They might want to find out if the cars are parked outside the donut shop all day long."

On October 1, SPD agreed to pay $30,474.49 to settle a lawsuit over a 2013 request by Mocek for the department's GPS data on patrol cars. The department stonewalled on the records request, according to the lawsuit, even though the data could easily be copied and transferred in electronic form. Four months after the request, the department responded:

SPD does not maintain a database of AVL [automatic vehicle location] data... The Department would have to undertake extensive customized programming of text files in order to create such a database. The Department estimates the cost of providing the customized programming would $2580.00 (at an hourly wage of $64.50 per hour x 40 hours).

That's just not true, Mocek maintained. The data existed in accessible, electronic form, he insisted, reiterating his request.

Furthermore, the lawsuit alleged, "SPD routinely copies this data anyway, to make backups... SPD fears public disclosure of records in general as it wishes to not be accountable."

Between 2008 and 2014, the city paid out more than $730,000 for public records act violations by SPD. In its lawsuit, COP had sought about $39,000, or $100 a day over 13 months, in penalties for causing an unreasonable delay and violating the state's public records act.

COP plans to use to settlement funds to do more transparency work. The department must disclose the records, showing the locations of the patrol cars from 2013 to now, with a series of mutually-agreed-upon redactions—including the addresses of officers with take-home cars, stakeout/SWAT and "help the officer" vehicle trips, and the locations of cars during events at CenturyLink stadium and Seattle Center—by December 3, or face further financial penalties.

The city attorney's office, which negotiated the SPD's settlement (in which no liability or fault is admitted), requested that we print this statement in full:

This case stems from a request to SPD under the Washington Public Records Act, RCW Chapt. 42.56, (PRA) for Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) data electronically captured from police vehicles generated over the course of several years. The AVL data can be used to create a map tracking everywhere those vehicles have gone. It can be linked with SPD incident reports to reveal highly-sensitive locations including domestic violence shelters, the residences of sexual assault victims, child victims, and victims and witnesses of other crimes who have requested non-disclosure or whose safety may be at risk, as well as officers’ residences, tactical response deployments, etc.

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Plaintiff Center for Open Policing sued the City alleging that the PRA required the City to disclose the non-exempt portions of the data. The parties have entered into a settlement agreement with Plaintiff to produce the redacted data. The Plaintiff and its attorney will receive approximately $30,000 for PRA penalties, costs and fees. The City has agreed to undertake the complicated task of redacting the data, which will cost approximately $45,000.

This case illustrates the dilemma that agencies face as they implement electronic systems that generate massive volumes of data containing both exempt and non-exempt information. Some Washington police agencies have not implemented body cameras because of the obligations and costs imposed by the PRA.

COP plans to make the raw data available on an open-source basis. "I'm disappointed that in order to get public access to these public records, we had to sue," Mocek said. "It would be better if the police department would just follow the law in the first place."