Smile, you're on Seattle Police Department camera
Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell proposes a pilot program of body-mounted cameras to videotape police interaction. It sounds a little creepy at first but could be a time and money saver. It's worth a pilot-project try.
AT first blush, the idea of Seattle police officers wearing tiny video cameras on their uniform or ear sounds a tad creepy. Big Brother. Smile, you're on very candid camera. But Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell is right to pursue a pilot project of perhaps 50 officers to test the cameras and see if they help police and reduce costs of complaints against officers ranging from garden variety rudeness to excessive force.
Marketers of the cameras say video evidence often compels people to think twice or even withdraw a complaint because of a video record.
One lesson of two recent videotaped encounters between Seattle Police and citizens is the new reality that a lot of people are videotaping at will. Lesson No. 2: police and the public should conduct themselves in such interactions assuming someone is videotaping.
Which leads to the reason to support Harrell's proposed trial of the new technology. Two versions are being considered, a small camera clipped onto the officer's lapel or shirt and an earpiece much like a Blue Tooth ear device. If citizens are filming, why not have video showing what the officer was up against? Let's see what we can learn.
About 275 Seattle police vehicles already have video cameras, so police are in the frame of mind to behave as if their interactions may be recorded. These mounted cameras cost $5,000 apiece and are not as flexible or mobile as body cameras, which may end up replacing them. Another reason to proceed.
The most prohibitive part of the body camera program is the cost, with each camera costing about $900 per officer. Cameras are a capital investment that supposedly will save money in a dramatic reduction of complaints against police. The study should carefully assess the true economics. Ongoing operational costs of archiving and providing access to the tapes once acquired also should be part of the equation.
Officers supposedly would not be able to edit the videotapes.
Harrell is convinced the cameras would be very effective because people act differently — read, better — when they are being recorded.
Any use of cameras would have to be negotiated with the union. Officers might feel their workplace conditions have changed too much but they also may be direct beneficiaries of new evidence.
The technological world is changing rapidly. If residents are videotaping events, police might need similar tools to help set the record straight.