It may sound like a version of the TV show “Cops,” but the Seattle Police Department has started a YouTube channel to show the dashcam and body cam videos of officers on the job, in an effort to increase transparency.
Seattle Police, who began wearing body cameras late last year, have been one of the early adopters of the movement to equip officers with body cams, following the outrage across the country over the police killings of unarmed Black men.
“The goal here is to balance transparency with protecting the privacy of citizens, who might be scooped up, swept up, onto the video just by being in the vicinity,” police spokesman Drew Fowler said.
The channel is called SPD BodyWornVideo and it will feature videos scrubbed of sound and with the faces of civilians blurred to protect their privacy. The channel launched with about a dozen videos of the same event, a protest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 19. And from a critic’s standpoint, they all are incredibly boring and not easy to follow because of the nearly opaque, grainy cinematography.
It should be noted that the Seattle Police Department hasn’t exactly been a vision of openness and warmth in its dealings with the public. The department is currently working under a consent decree with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington’s western district after they a found a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law. The investigation also raised serious concerns that the department was engaged in racially discriminatory or biased policing in its encounters with the Black community.
Under the agreement, which the city entered into reluctantly in July 2012 after disagreeing with the findings—but wanting to avoid a Justice Department lawsuit—the department is overseen by a monitor, Merrick Bobb. Bobb’s job is to ensure that the department is properly implementing reforms that include adoption of policies and training to eliminate discriminatory policing, and the development of improved relations, trust and support among and from all of Seattle’s many and varied communities.
Last month, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole was forced to issue an apology after an officer wrongfully arrested an elderly Black man after claiming the man swung a golf club at her. But video of the incident clearly showed the man leaning on the club for support and not lifting it toward the officer.