Body Worn Video

Under Executive Order 2017-03, SPD will be moving forward and equipping all front-line police officers with body cameras, beginning with the West Precinct Bike Unit.  The goal of the SPD body-camera program is to enhance public trust in the Seattle Police Department by providing greater transparency into officer-public interactions.

Background

While the body camera project has been in full-scale development since May 2016, the roll-out had been paused as the department engaged in police union negotiations. 

The Department launched a pilot program with the West Precinct Bike Unit in late December 2016. SPD developed a body camera policy based on community input and lessons learned from the pilot program. The policy was reviewed and approved in May 2017 by a federal judge as a part of the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Upcoming

  • SPD is providing intensive training for officers on department policy and camera use.
  • Officers will be trained and begin using the cameras on a precinct-by-precinct basis.
  • After the September 30th deployment to the West Precinct, SPD will roll-out the cameras to the remaining precincts at a rate of about one precinct per month.
  • After West Precinct will be North Precinct, followed in order by East, South, and Southwest precincts. SPD is committed to ensuring that the body-worn camera program responds to the interests and concerns of the community.
  • As body cameras are deployed, SPD will continue to solicit feedback from community groups and advisors. The feedback will be reviewed by the department as part of the process of continual improvement and reported out to City Council.

If you would like to provide feedback or have a question on the Body-Worn Video program, please email bodycamfeedback@seattle.gov

 

What Are My Rights?

Yes. Officers are required by SPD body-worn video policy to notify persons as soon as practical, with the notification being on the recording. If new people become involved in the recording, officers will make reasonable efforts to notify them that they are being recorded.

See Section 5a in Title 16.090-POL-1 of the SPD policy manual for the policy.

Per the SPD policy, employees will make reasonable efforts to communicate to non-English speakers, those with limited English proficiency, deaf persons, or persons hard of hearing that they are being recorded.

See Section 5a in Title 16.090-POL-1 of the SPD policy manual for the policy.

No, except in extremely limited circumstances as governed by the Seattle Municipal Code (4.18) and SPD policy (6.020). Those provisions say that the police shall not inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person except when the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual: (1) has previously been deported from the United States; (2) is again present in the United States; and (3) is committing or has committed a felony criminal-law violation.  For more details, please see SMC Chap. 4.18 and SPD Manual Section 6.020.

No. Employees will refer members of the public who wish to view video to file a public disclosure request.

See Title 16.090-POL-2 of the SPD policy manual for the policy to see the SPD policy on viewing videos.

It depends. Washington law specifies what is required in a request for a copy of body-worn camera video (see RCW 42.56.240(14) for detail). A request must include:

  • The name of a person or persons involved in the incident; 
  • The incident or case number;
  • The date, time, and location of the incident or incidents; or
  • The identification of a law enforcement or corrections officer involved in the incident or incidents.

Washington law does limit disclosure of body-worn videos in certain circumstances (see RCW. 42.56.240(14) for detail), such as when a video:

  • Contains images of any areas of a medical facility, counseling, or therapeutic program office;
  • Contains information that meets the definition of protected health information;
  • Contains images of the interior of a place of residence where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy;
  • Contains images defined in the RCW as "intimate," i.e., nudity, partial nudity, sexually explicit content;
  • Contains images of an identifiable minor;
  • Contains images of a deceased person;
  • Contains the identity or communications from a victim or witness of an incident involving domestic violence or sexual assault; or
  • Contains images from an incident where a domestic violence or sexual assault victim or witness indicates a desire for non-disclosure of their recorded identity or communications.

In the above scenarios, SPD may release the video with the relevant video/audio redacted (blurred or blocked out) and/or audio redacted (sound removed). If none of the above scenarios exist, the video may be released un-redacted, depending on whether the victim has requested non-disclosure.

Washington law does identify some exceptions for the disclosure of offensive or private videos listed as not subject to disclosure (see RCW 42.56.240(14) for detail). You can receive a copy of video state law defines as not disclosable to the public if:

  • You are directly involved in the incident;
  • You are an attorney representing someone involved in the incident for the relevant criminal case and explain the relevancy of the requested video;
  • You are an Executive Director from the Washington State Commission on African-American Affairs, Asian-Pacific Affairs, or Hispanic Affairs;
  • You are an attorney who represents a person in a potential or existing civil cause of action involving the denial of civil rights under the federal or state constitution, or a violation of a United States Department of Justice settlement agreement and explain the relevancy of the requested video.

Please visit the Public Records Request Center section of the SPD website to see information on how to request copies of the videos. If you were involved in an incident, but have misplaced your incident number, the Public Disclosure Unit can assist you in locating the number.

Will a suspect in a crime be able to view a copy of a video?

A suspect in a crime is subject to the same laws of all requestors of body-worn video and follow the same process. 

Maybe. Washington law allows local law enforcement agencies to charge for reasonable costs for redacting video (see RCW 42.56.240(14) for detail).

Exempt from the charges are:

  • A person directly involved in a recorded incident and their attorney;
  • A person or his or her attorney who requests a body worn camera recording relevant to a criminal case involving that person;
  • Executive Directors from with the Washington State Commission on African-American Affairs, Asian-Pacific Affairs, or Hispanic Affairs;
  • Attorneys who represents a person in a potential or existing civil cause of action involving the denial of civil rights under the federal or state constitution, or a violation of a United States Department of Justice settlement agreement and explain the relevancy of the requested video.

Washington law also allows local law enforcement agencies to charge for actual cost of copying video (see RCW 42.56.120 for detail). 

It depends. The SPD policy gives officers discretion to stop recording in circumstances where respect for an individual's privacy outweighs the need to record an event. Such circumstances can include: natural death scenes, death notifications, child or sexual assault victim interviews, cultural or religious objections to being recorded, or when the use of cameras would impede or limit the cooperation of a victim or witness.  

Also, officers will ask for consent to record before entering a private residence. If any person with legal standing; e.g., a victim or witness who is the resident or who has the legal right to be in the home, denies permission to record, the officers will stop the video recording. However, per the SPD body-worn video policy, officers will continue to record audio, regardless. See Section 5 e-f in Title 16.090-POL-1 of the SPD policy manual for the policy.

Privacy

It depends. Per the SPD policy, officers shall not intentionally record in places where people are lawfully exercising their freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, religion, or right to petition the government for redress of grievances unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity is occurring or will occur. Thus, officers will record where people are lawfully exercising their freedom of speech or in a place of worship only when there is reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity is occurring or will occur.

Since schools and community centers are generally public spaces, officers may record as stated in the policy, however, because disclosure of images of any minor (child) is presumed highly offensive and images of an identifiable minor are almost always exempt from disclosure, images of minors in a school will almost always be redacted

What about hospitals or treatment center?

Per SPD policy, officers will not record in the interiors of medical, mental health, counseling, or therapeutic facilities. However, if officers are there for a direct law enforcement purpose, such as a crime in progress, they will record.

See Section 5.d in Title 16.090-POL 1 of the SPD policy manual for the policy to see the SPD policy on when to record.

If officers record in a hospital or treatment center due to a direct law enforcement purpose, the resulting video would be heavily redacted (blurred or boxed out) and appropriate audio would be removed in order to avoid disclosure of healthcare or treatment information of those involved.

Maybe. SPD policy states that officers should record the questioning of victims, suspects, or witnesses. 


The SPD Policy does give officers discretion to stop recording in circumstances where respect for an individual's privacy outweighs the need to record an event including when the use of cameras would impede or limit the cooperation of a victim or witness. However, per state law, officers will continue to record audio, regardless. See Section 5 in Title 16.090-POL 1 of the SPD policy manual for the policy to see the SPD policy on when to record.

If you are reporting the crime: 

Officers are instructed in SPD policy not to turn the camera on during a conversation with persons merely wishing to pass on information about general criminal activity not tied to a specific event. For example, if you talk to an officer about how there are a lot of car prowls in your neighborhood, they will not record the event.

If you report a specific crime to an officer on the street who is wearing a body camera, your image may be captured, since officers may have the video on already due to an incident in progress. Officers also may turn on the camera as a result of you reporting a specific crime, capturing your image. If you witnessed the crime, the officer may record their conversation with you when they ask you questions about what you saw.

If you are walking down the street or are in the background of a video: 

Yes. There is not a reasonable expectation of privacy on a public street. If you appear in the background of a video that is released to the public, your image will not be redacted (blurred or boxed out).

It depends. The SPD policy manual states that officers will not record people lawfully exercising their freedom of speech, press, association, assembly, or religion. However, if officers have probable cause that criminal activity is occurring or are ordered to by a supervisor, they will turn the cameras on.

See Section 5.g in Title 16.090-POL 1 of the SPD policy manual for the policy to see the SPD policy on when to record.

Similar to any other police record a body-worn video released pursuant to a warrant, in response to a PRA request, or otherwise lawfully disclosed may be used by the recipient in a legal proceeding. 

It depends. Body-worn video is a public record that may be requested under the Public Records Act (PRA). The Legislature recognized privacy concerns related to body-worn video and adopted legislation effective until July 2019, amending the PRA to address these concerns while a state-wide task force develops permanent policies on disclosure. Per the legislation, a request must provide specific information about the video sought. This is intended to limit broad requests for large numbers of videos at a time. It allows agencies to charge the actual cost of redacting video/audio to requestors who are not the subject of the video or who do not have an identified accountability role related to the video. This is also intended to limit broad requests for large volumes of video.

The legislation also creates a presumption that disclosure of certain images is highly offensive to a reasonable individual: inside a private residence, medical and mental health care treatment and facilities, intimate images, minors, deceased bodies, DV victims/witnesses, and DV program facility/shelters. If a video containing those images is requested, it will be disclosed only if the content is of legitimate interest to the public, and content containing the specific images that are presumed highly offensive will likely be redacted.

What about media requests?

The media is subject to the same laws of all requestors of body-worn video and follow the same process.

A video gets redacted (faces and identifying items blurred or boxed out) when it is publicly released and contains information that is generally offensive to the public or contains a situation where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy - these instances are largely governed by State Law (see RCW. 42.56.240(14) for more detail). Generally, this means a video that contains images disclosure of which are presumed to be highly offensive to a reasonable individual to the extent it:

  • Contains images of any areas of a medical facility, counseling, or therapeutic program office;
  • Contains information that meets the definition of protected health information;
  • Contains images of the interior of a place of residence where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy;
  • Contains images defined as "intimate," i.e., nudity, partial nudity, sexually explicit content;
  • Contains images of an identifiable minor;
  • Contains images of a deceased person;
  • Contains the identity or communications from a victim or witness of an incident involving domestic violence or sexual assault; or
  • Contains images from an incident where a domestic violence or sexual assault victim or witness indicates a desire for non-disclosure of their recorded identity or communications.

How will people be redacted in videos?

SPD redacts video using software which allows placement of a box or blurring of images to hide any identifying marks, including faces, clothes, tattoos, addresses, photos, paperwork, computer screens, names, etc. The redactions are embedded in the video, meaning they cannot be removed. An SPD employee applies the redactions to ensure that all identifying images/audio are removed. These redacted files will be kept in addition to the original, non-redacted version.

Similar to any other police record, a body-worn video released pursuant to a warrant, in response to a PRA request, or otherwise lawfully disclosed may be used by the recipient in a legal proceeding.

SPD does not run body-worn videos through facial recognition software. SPD may use facial recognition software to compare a screenshot from a body-worn video to booking photos in limited circumstances just as it does with screenshots from in-car video or private video provided to SPD with consent or pursuant to a warrant. SPD policy restricts the circumstances in which facial recognition software can be used. SPD can only use facial recognition software in instances where an officer has an unidentified image of someone who is reasonably suspected of being involved in criminal activity, and can only use that software to compare a still image with booking photos. SPD does not use "live" video feeds for facial recognition comparison and any agency requesting SPD booking photo comparison assistance with a criminal investigation must satisfy all the criteria outlined in the SPD policy. For more details, please see Section 12.045 in the SPD Policy Manual.

A person who is named in a record or to whom a record specifically pertains has the legal right under RCW 42.56.540 to bring legal action to enjoin the release of any records s/he believes may not be subject to disclosure. If SPD intends to disclose video content that is presumed highly offensive but appears to be of legitimate interest to the public, SPD will in most cases provide third-party notice to a person identified in the video informing him/her that it will make the requested records available to the requestor unless prior to that time s/he has obtained and the City of Seattle has been served with a court injunction prohibiting disclosure.

Can I get an injunction against a video being released to the public?

Washington law allows a person to file a civil case in Superior Court, asking a judge to grant an order enjoining disclosure of a record. (see RCW 42.56.540 for detail). You must file a motion and affidavit for a Temporary Restraining Order in King County Superior Court, Ex Parte Department. The Court Rule applicable to injunctions is CR 65. The applicable King County Local Court Rule is LCR 65. You should seek independent legal counsel if you have questions about seeking injunctive relief.

Policy and Accountability

The goal of the body-worn video program is to enhance public trust in the Seattle Police Department by providing greater transparency into officer actions. Recording law enforcement interactions between officers and members of the public provides valuable information for officer accountability and effective criminal investigations.

SPD is not implementing body-worn video for the purpose of creating evidence. Evidence, however, is a by-product of numerous SPD systems and processes, including body-worn video. For example, a recording of a call to 911 is frequently submitted as evidence in criminal prosecutions. Videos from body-worn cameras may be used as evidence for both officer accountability purposes and public criminal prosecutions.

Before an officer is issued a body-worn camera, s/he must undergo training. This training session covers SPD body-worn video policy, camera operation, and video management.

Changes and/or updates to the policy or procedures will be communicated to the officers via SPD's training system, which tracks and verifies that officers have received and understood the information.

When officers are turning their cameras on:

Start Recording Stop Recording 
  • Dispatched to 911 calls
  • Traffic and "Terry" stops
  • Officer views criminal activity
  • Arrests and seizures
  • Searches and inventories of vehicles, persons or premises
  • Suspect transport
  • Vehicle pursuits
  • Questioning suspects, victims and witnesses
  • Resident or someone who has right to be in home directs and officer to turn off camera before entering a private residence (unless a crime is in progress or officers have a warrant)
  • The officer has completed their investigation
  • There is little possibility the officers will have further contact with any person in the event  

When officers do not record or have discretion to record: 

Do Not Record*  Recording at Officers Discretion
  • In restrooms
  • In jails
  • Interiors of medical, mental health, counseling, or therapeutic facilities
  • Resident or someone who has right to be in home directs an officer to turn off camera before entering a private residence (unless a crime is in progress or officers have a warrant)
  • Persons lawfully exercising their freedom of speech, press association, assembly or religion

* Except for direct law enforcement purpose - like a crime in progress

  • Scenes where respect for an individual's privacy or dignity outweighs the need to record an event, such as:
  • Natural death scenes
  • Death notifications
  • Child or sexual assault victim interviews
  • Cultural or religious objections to being recorded
  • When the use of body-worn video would impede or limit the cooperation of a victim or witness 

Officers have access to their own videos, although SPD policy restricts which of their own videos they can review before writing a police report (they cannot review video after a major use of force incident, such as an officer-involved shooting, before writing their report). Supervisors have access to all officer videos for audit and training purposes. Various SPD staff also have access to videos in order to do their work, including detectives, the Office of Professional Accountability, the Force Investigation Team, the Force Review Unit, the Video Unit, Public Disclosure Unit, and Information Technology. Different SPD employees have different permissions to view videos and use the body-worn camera video management software, depending on their duties.

Will the footage be available to federal authorities?

No non-SPD agencies have direct access to body-worn video, including federal authorities. However, SPD may share video as part of a joint investigation with federal authorities or if required to with a warrant. Federal authorities have the same rights as the public to request video.

In most cases, officers can review their own video prior to writing their reports. The one instance where officers are prohibited from viewing their own video prior to writing a report and giving a statement is in cases where a serious use of force, such as an officer-involved shooting, occurred. In cases of serious uses of force, officers can only review their videos after giving a statement on the incident.

See Section 3, Title 16.090-POL-2 in the SPD manual.

Will the police be able to edit videos to their benefit?

The SPD body-worn video policy states that "employees shall not tamper with, alter, or delete video" (the exception being to delete videos under established retention guidelines) (Title 16.090-POL-2, Section 2). The body-worn video system maintains an audit log that shows user actions taken with a video - including editing, deleting, exporting, etc., and logs who took the action and when it was taken. While some SPD staff may redact and/or edit video as part of their duties, the original, unaltered video will be retained for the duration outlined in the SPD retention policy.

What happens if an officer violates the body-worn video policy?

The SPD manual states that employees are responsible for adhering to federal law, state laws, city laws, city policies, SPD policies, published directives and special orders, departmental training, and applicable collective bargaining agreements and relevant labor laws. If employees are not following these laws and policies, their conduct can be investigated by the Office of Police Accountability and they can receive discipline for non-compliance.

Technology

The City vendor is Axon. Their current contract is for a five-year time frame. At the end of the contract term, the City may grant one-year extensions or choose to re-bid the body-worn video system.

How was Axon chosen?

The City of Seattle Purchasing and Contract Services Division released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a body-worn video solution on September 10th, 2016. A competitive process followed, with numerous vendors submitting proposals. Proposals went through two rounds of scoring, with the highest scoring proposal after the second round receiving the contract. The evaluation team included members of SPD, the Seattle Department of Information Technology, the City's Chief Information Security Officer, the City Attorney's Office, the City Budget Office, and an independent IT consultant.

While cost was a central criterion for proposal scoring, it was not the only feature scored. Other criteria included system architecture, camera specifications, storage, camera user management, the functionality of the video management system, access to the videos, public disclosure functionality, system updates, project management and support, training, company strategic plan and roadmap, inclusion plan, security response, references, and independent testing of camera specifications. SPD did not want to choose a camera that cost little but did not meet the operational, security, and functional demands that the City required in order for the public and Department to have trust in the equipment. Included in the second round of scoring was an evaluation of camera specifications and quality conducted by an independent forensic video specialist. 

Numerous large, urban police departments in the United States and throughout the world are using or in the process of deploying body cameras including, but not limited to: Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Ferguson, Hong Kong, Houston, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Oakland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Stockholm, and Washington D.C.

SPD has communicated with cities that have deployed or are currently deploying body-worn cameras including, but not limited to: Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Diego, and San Jose. In addition, senior SPD staff and members of the body-worn video team have attended body-worn video conferences where US and international attendees discuss challenges and successes surrounding body-worn video.

Although body-cameras are quite rugged, they are not indestructible. That said, the cameras are impact certified from a height of 6 feet. The cameras also have an Ingress Protection (IP) rating of 67, meaning they can be immersed in up to one meter of water without failure, as well as being impenetrable to dust. The cameras should generally hold up to the rigors of law enforcement operations in Seattle without breaking.

The camera was tested by an outside consultant during the bidding process and operated for 12 hours and 27 minutes of recording before the battery died. Videos were recoverable after the battery had drained. Officers carry many pieces of equipment - both electronic and non-electronic - that undergo a lot of stress and heavy use in the field. No piece of equipment is immune to failure. During the body-worn video program pilot, some cameras were taken out of operation due to malfunctions. The officers were immediately supplied with a replacement camera. No videos were lost due to camera malfunction. 

The videos are stored on our vendor's cloud storage partner, Microsoft Azure Government Cloud. Azure is compliant with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) security policy for storage. The cloud storage approach allows for secure storage, while at the same time providing easy access to authorized viewers. Viewers are authorized by system administrators and can only access videos on SPD computers.

The videos are the property of the City of Seattle and maintain ownership even if a future contract is awarded to a different vendor. In the event that the City moves to a different vendor for body-worn video, the videos will be moved to a new vendor's storage location. While moving a large amount of video is an unwieldy process, SPD's current vendor contract states that any movement of videos to a different vendor will be facilitated by the current vendor. 

SPD's vendor, Axon, complies with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) security policy for storage. Axon's cloud storage partner, Microsoft Azure Government Cloud, also complies with the CJIS security policy. Axon is also certified against information security management standards ISO 27001/27002, and 27018.  The videos contained in the cloud storage are geo-redundant, meaning the data is stored in two separate locations so the objective of no loss of data in the event of a catastrophic datacenter failure can be met.

All videos are stored locally on the camera until they are docked at the police precinct, where they then stream the videos to the cloud. All videos are encrypted in transit and at rest on cloud storage using 256-bit AES encryption. The cameras use a proprietary connection to stream data off the device. Even if someone were to have the appropriate connection device or were able to access the device storage, Axon has protections that reside in its file system that would make it extremely difficult for someone outside of SPD to retrieve and view video from the device.

Yes. In-car video provides another perspective of an incident scene that can be helpful for both accountability and evidentiary purposes. In addition, the in-car video system has a rear-facing camera that captures the back seat of the vehicle so the Department has video of suspects being transported in the back of patrol cars, which would not be captured by body-worn video.