Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Center for Justice, others voice new concerns with SPD body cam policy

Posted By on Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 5:16 PM

Police accountability advocates today voiced several new concerns about the Spokane Police Department's proposed usage policy for officer-worn body cameras, taking issue with vague recording requirements and a perceived lack of public input.

The Center for Justice issued a letter dated July 16, also signed by the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and other local groups, saying advocates found the latest draft policy insufficient to ensure body cameras would provide reliable oversight.

click to enlarge Center for Justice, others voice new concerns with SPD body cam policy
A promotional photo of the chest-mounted Taser Axon Body camera Spokane Police will start wearing in September.

"Unfortunately," the letter states, "the current version of the policy supports a purpose mostly of discretionary surveillance, not of transparency and accountability."

Advocates expressed the most concern with the rules defining what and when an officer must record. The proposed policy says "most" police encounters "shall" be recorded, but a section specifically listing many common, required interactions was removed.

"If left to officer discretion, there could be inconsistent usage," the letter states, "which will undermine both the camera's oversight value and the public's trust in our police department."

The letter also requests policies to address protocols for camera malfunctions and additional oversight for video filing. Advocates hoped the department would extend opportunities for additional comment or discussion of the issue in the near future.

The new letter comes several days after the ACLU of Washington sent a somewhat similar letter, calling the policy "disappointing" and lamenting a lack of privacy protections. Nationally, the ACLU has offered several recommendations for how law enforcement should approach the use body cameras.

SPD officials note they proactively asked the ACLU to review the proposed policies to develop a balanced set of rules that protect both police officers and citizens. The department plans to start rolling out the cameras on officers by September.

Spokeswoman Monique Cotton confirmed today the department plans to host multiple public forums to collect citizen input and answer any questions about how the technology will be used. Those forums have not yet been scheduled.

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Jacob Jones

Staff writer Jacob Jones covers criminal justice, natural resources, military issues and organized labor for the Inlander.