Tim Clemans, the award-winning programmer who bombarded the Seattle Police Department with public disclosure requests until it took the unusual step of hiring him, resigned today—the culmination of months of mounting tensions between him and the department. "I'm really just fed up at this point," he said.
The tensions began in August, three months after he'd been hired. Clemans said he visited the communications center and created a computer program that helps 911 dispatchers do their jobs more efficiently by highlighting the most serious calls.
However, not long afterward, according to Clemans, longtime SPD captain Ron Rasmussen complained in a meeting that all changes in the center had to go through him. Rasmussen dismissed the usefulness of the highlighter program, Clemans said. He admits that when that happened, he "blew up," yelling and cursing at Rasmussen. He was escorted out of the building and hasn't been allowed back to SPD headquarters since then.
He remembers saying to Rasmussen, "I'm going to PDR [public disclosure request] the shit out of you."
"Basically, this guy was furious that I was allowed into the communications room multiple times and that I built this app," Clemans told me. "His position was that everything—everything—has to be pre-approved by him, totally disregarding the fact that I'm actually solving problems... But the captains are untouchable. They [the department] can't rid of them."
In an August 24 e-mail obtained by The Stranger, a SPD communications dispatcher wrote to Clemans and thanked him. "I'm guessing some politics are floating around right now with the awesome work you did with us," the dispatcher said. "But I just wanted to let you know I think the stuff you did in that short time was awesome. Hopefully when the smoke clears we can get back to brainstorming even more awesome possibilities with our police CAD [computer-aided dispatch] system moving forward."
The SPD would not comment on that issue. In a statement, SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers had only praise for Clemans: "Professionally, he's done a tremendous job to help push the organization forward. And this has helped not only the Seattle police department, but it's helped change the national conversation of how to release video to the public. "
"He's a very gifted individual," said spokesperson Sergeant Sean Whitcomb. "We're very lucky to have had him as long as we had. The work that he's done is creating a legacy."
Clemans developed the code that auto-blurs body camera footage for the department's YouTube channel, where video from the bodycam pilot program is auto-uploaded. More recently, he began testing an improved version of the software that auto-blurs anything that moves in dashcam videos:
"The fact that I figured out for in-car video how to blur, frame by frame, anyone who's ever moved," Clemans said, "that's a real breakthrough, I believe." He wants the department to start sharing the dashcam footage with the public, stat.
"Working within government in general takes a special kind of personality," said WCOG President Toby Nixon. "I often characterize it as masochist. Because whether you're on the elected or the staff side, the politics of it are really rough... Tim, not being particularly skilled in diplomacy... we probably could have predicted there would be friction over things like turf. This sounds like a turf battle."
Nixon added: "Tim has and had the potential to improve a lot of things technologically and culturally at the SPD. I think he's had influence positively in that regard. I hope he stays productively engaged in the conversation on bodycams and dashcam videos and public records."
That appears to be the case. This morning, concurrently with his resignation, Clemans filed public records requests for the dashcam videos, 911 calls, and CAD logs pertaining to 261 separate incidents, using an automated bot. "I want their stuff to be public," he said. "I've felt from the get go that the public is interested in the wide range of police interactions. If we don't put out good videos, then we have nothing to counter the bad ones. There are really good police officers at Seattle police, and I think the public needs to see the good, bad and the ugly."