The Seattle Police Department has made a deal with an anonymous computer programmer who submitted a massive series of public records requests, including one for all of the videos produced by patrol car cameras.
After the man submitted an enormous amount of public records requests on Tuesday, SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers told the Times that he doubted the department could fulfill the requests, and they could have put the department’s plan to test new body-mounted cameras on hold. Now, that plan will proceed.
The anonymous requester told GeekWire that he’s been impressed with the SPD’s response thus far.
“For any agency to take seriously the possibility of releasing thousands and thousands of videos to the internet, it’s just completely unprecedented,” he said.
Wagers actually made a deal with the man in an exchange on Twitter:
It’s not exactly clear how the videos will be released to the public. The requester, a Seattle-based computer programmer in his 20s who lives with his parents, has suggested that the department could use YouTube’s automatic face blurring tool, and strip the video’s audio track with FFmpeg, a free, open-source utility. The SPD has announced that it will hold a hackathon on Dec. 19 to explore different methods for releasing the videos.
Some videos and audio from other municipalities that have complied with the requests are published on YouTube, under an anonymous Police Video Requests account. The channel has been posting content since October and includes videos from the Seattle, Bellingham and Renton police departments.
Releasing the videos is a sticky situation for officers, since they could contain confidential information. But under Washington’s public disclosure laws, the police are required to release the videos, even for broad and anonymous requests like the ones in this case.
“When these public disclosure laws were written, they weren’t written with this in mind,” SPD Detective Patrick Michaud told GeekWire.
Michaud said that the department is committed to getting the video footage into the public’s hands, but also doing so in a manner that complies with the law.