Body cams are coming soon to some Seattle police officers, and yesterday the department released a draft policy on when and how they should use them.
  • Alex Garland
  • Body cams are coming soon to some Seattle police officers, and yesterday the department released a draft policy on when and how they should use them.

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I wrote a story in this week’s Stranger about body cameras in Seattle. Who wants them? What’s taking so long? When are they showing up? Answers to those questions right here.

But there were some things the police department wouldn’t tell me, like when officers would be required to turn on their cameras. That’s important because just leaving it up to common sense is, as you might guess, tricky. In one of the first use-of-force incidents since Spokane cops started wearing body cameras, for example, police shot a 20-year-old suspect and the officer wearing a camera hadn’t turned it on. No one seems to know why.

Last night, the Seattle Police Department posted its draft body camera policy, which gives us some answers—at least for the pilot program expected to start by the end of the year, which will last six months and involve 13 officers.

Here are the highlights:

Cops will notify people when they’re being recorded and will record responses to 911 calls, “on-view criminal activity”, traffic stops, arrests, and questioning of suspects and witnesses, among other things. In most instances, they won’t record protests or “places where a heightened expectation of privacy exists” like restrooms and hospitals.

There will be no discipline for officers who fail to record, but they may be removed from the pilot program.

When officers are inside private residences, they’ll ask for permission to record and, if asked not to record, they’ll shut the camera off unless a crime is in progress or there are “other circumstances that would allow the officer to be lawfully present without a warrant.” (This is in contrast to a recent state attorney general’s decision that said officers aren’t required to stop recording because “a conversation between a police officer and a member of the public that occurs in the performance of the officer’s official duties is not private.”)

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Any SPD department employee who views video from a body camera will be required to record why they’re watching it.

You can read the full SPD draft policy here.