The Seattle Police Department is launching a new YouTube channel to showcase the work of high-tech community partners, who have joined the department to help increase transparency and accountability while balancing the privacy rights of citizens.
The new YouTube page, SPD BodyWornVideo, comes after the department’s first-ever Hackathon, held in December. At that event, several local civic hackers presented early versions of new tools to help SPD automatically redact police videos, while still meeting Washington State’s privacy laws. The aim is to speed the release of videos, which now go through a time-consuming manual redaction to protect privacy.
SPD is testing some of these tools to redact video from the department’s new body-worn camera pilot project. The resulting video is debuting on the SPD BodyWornVideo page.
Tim Clemans, part of SPD’s volunteer force of hackers, developed the first tool being tested. It blurs video to protect privacy and was used to redact images and eliminate sound from bodycam video taken during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day demonstrations.
Using Clemans’ process, it only took half a day to redact more than four hours of footage for posting online. The old method would have required days of work. A simple manual redaction in a one minute video, for example, can take specialists upwards of half-an-hour, whereas more complicated edits—like blurring multiple faces or pieces of audio—can take much, much longer.
The department will continue with this innovative program of working with local tech volunteers to improve these tools and will make them available free of charge to other law enforcement agencies as they are refined.
Creation of the new YouTube channel comes the same week the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a resolution providing a framework for dealing with technologies that impact privacy. SPD is a co-sponsor of the Citywide Privacy Initiative, along with the Department of Information Technology.
Mike Wagers, the department’s Chief Operating Officer, said the new YouTube channel, and ongoing development of video redaction tools, accomplishes several goals.
“Mayor Murray and Chief O’Toole have made enhancing public trust a cornerstone of police reforms in Seattle. This is certainly one important component. It also underscores our commitment to privacy,” Wagers said. “And, it 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.”
This demonstration project also is happening at the same time that Wagers is in Washington DC, working with the U.S. Department of Justice and other experts from around the country to build a roadmap for police agencies looking to equip their officers with body-worn cameras.
Recognizing the innovative work of the Seattle Police Department, the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), part of the DOJ, asked Wagers to serve on an expert panel that will provide advice on the development of a web-based clearinghouse of information and resources. The BJA will create a toolkit to provide guidance and a model policy for other law enforcement agencies across the country as they implement body-worn camera programs.