It has just 15 videos and, as of this morning, 38 subscribers. But the Seattle Police Department’s new SPD BodyWornVideo channel on YouTube could represent a sea change in the department’s transparency efforts.
The channel, which went live on Wednesday, only includes videos from the January 19, 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. Day protests, in black-and-white and without audio. The images are frequently blurry, and there’s no description for each video other than, “Body worn video from January 19th, 2015. All video has been redacted and has no audio. For more information about the Seattle Police Department’s pilot program for body worn video check out the blotter.”
Back in December, the SPD announced that, “A dozen East Precinct officers will be testing test body worn cameras that could eventually become standard issue for all patrol officers,” saying it was the culmination of a year’s effort. Body worn cameras have been touted as a way to both provide evidence about suspects and document behavior of officers.
The new YouTube channel follows the department’s first-ever Hackathon that same month, and used one of the event’s tools to automatically redact police videos.
“The aim,” SPD promises on the creation of the new YouTube channel, “is to speed the release of videos, which now go through a time-consuming manual redaction to protect privacy.” SPD credits Tim Clemans with developing the redaction tool.
Why no crystal-clear images? It’s apparently not the cameras. The tool, SPD explains, “blurs video to protect privacy.”
SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers says the new YouTube channel and redaction for privacy, “demonstrates that we are committed to working with local tech talent to transform the Seattle Police Department into a national leader when it comes to its use of technology.” The department says it will make the tools available free of charge to other law enforcement agencies as they’re refined.