A number of Spokane Police body camera videos showing officers' uses of force in 2016 have been purged from the department's cloud storage system, along with at least one piece of footage showing an incident that drew a complaint to the ombudsman's office.
The deleted use-of-force footage was discovered when Ombudsman Commissioner James Wilburn decided to dig into the SPD's uses of force against African American citizens. He and Ombudsman Bart Logue requested all use-of-force investigations involving African Americans in 2016, along with every piece of body camera footage.
"What's my purpose on the commission if I can't speak for the people I'm here to represent?" says Wilburn, who is black. "We're representing the community, and if you're beating up and shooting and arresting more of the people who I represent, what would they expect from me?"
Wilburn's request alerted Spokane Police to the issue and the department has since worked to fix it by recategorizing footage associated with internal affairs cases, including complaints, uses of force, pursuits and collisions, according to the city's public safety spokeswoman, Michele Anderson.
Typically, SPD retains body camera footage according to the Washington State Archives standards and depending on the type of incident captured on video. Footage of homicides and officer-involved shootings is kept for 20 years, Anderson says as an example, while footage of misdemeanor crimes is kept for one year and footage of sex crimes is kept for five years.
Footage associated with an internal affairs case is supposed to be kept for six years beyond the year in which the incident occurred. It's unclear when the 2016 footage was deleted from SPD's storage system, and Anderson says it's now gone for good.
For the past few years, Spokane Police officers' uses of force have trended down, according to annual use-of-force reports put out by the department. In 2013, the department reported 147 nondeadly uses of force, compared to 105 in 2016.