The Seattle City Council voted Monday to expand the Seattle Police Department's body-worn camera program agency-wide.
The council voted 6-2 to lift a stipulation on the budgeted money that required the city to collect more public input before expanding the program that was, as of this week, limited to a handful of East Precinct officers and West Precinct bicycle cops.
Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Mike O'Brien voted against the measure, according to KUOW. Councilwoman Lisa Herbold was absent.
The 2017 adopted city budget includes more than $2.3 million for the body camera program. Before the City Council effectively released this money for use Monday, the limited program was mainly paid for by a federal grant and the city's matching dollars for that grant.
The pilot program began in December 2014 when 12 East Precinct officers volunteered to try out different body cameras. At the time, the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. at the hands of police were still fresh on the public's mind with calls for greater public accountability.
Since then, officers responded favorably to the use of body-worn cameras. A City Council report indicated that a survey performed by a police monitoring team overseeing SPD's compliance with the federal Department of Justice Consent Decree revealed 89 percent of the public favored body cams in Seattle in 2015 and 92 percent supported them in 2016.
Late 2016 also saw the distribution of body cams among West Precinct bicycle officers.
The 2017 adopted budget also includes $57,000 this year and $103,000 next year for a paralegal to support the retrieval, discovery, review and redaction of body cam footage, according to the City Council financial report.
The City Council had resisted paying for a full rollout of the program due to calls for more community input on the effort. Since then, the city has convened meetings with several organizations, such as the ACLU, Community Police Commission, King County Coalition En
ding Gender Based Violence, Somali Community Services of Seattle and the King County Department of Public Defense.
Concerns that arose included privacy issues or a chilling effect the cameras may have on people in being forthcoming or honest with police.
However, SPD reported that between 87 and 98 percent of people whose conversations were recorded on body cameras felt comfortable being filmed and did not change their behavior because of the cameras.
The city hopes to continue to collect input from the public.
The ACLU of Washington wrote a letter to the City Council Feb. 21 to voice its opposition to the body cam expansion, noting that the program should remain limited until more public comments are collected and state public records laws are updated to include police camera policies. The letter also SPD policy surrounding the cameras should favor accountability over evidence gathering and that the agency should look more into unintended consequences that may arise from their use.
The organization blasted the city's "community engagement" efforts by pointing out that those meetings only started in December 2016 after the City Council asked for the outreach in November 2015.
They also say SPD's body camera policy gives enough discretion to officers that they could justify any failure to record their interactions with the public. Current policy says "employees may initiate recording any time they determine it would be beneficial to capture an event or activity" -- the ACLU says they do not define "beneficial" footage.
The group additionally says a "massive trove" of publicly available location data would become available to the federal government.
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