Jun 25

Jon Zimmerman

Can I Get Video Of My Seattle Traffic Stop? Not Quickly.

by Jon Zimmerman

Can I Get Video Of My Seattle Traffic Stop? Not Quickly.

Late last week, Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter wrote about the Seattle City Auditor's recommendation that the police should expand access to dash-cam video

If you have ever received a traffic ticket in Seattle, what you might know is that there is a likelihood that the traffic stop was audio and video recorded. You might even think that you could request a copy of the stop, but good luck in actually getting a copy. 

In theory, you should be able to get a copy fairly quickly, but sometimes the police will say the video doesn't exist (even when it does). This happened to a computer-security expert, Eric Rachner, who found video of his 2008 arrest after police said the video didn't exist

There are several interesting aspects surrounding the auditor's report, and they should be particularly interesting to motorists who are getting pulled over for a speeding ticket. First, the report comes after an earlier report by Seattle's Office of Professional Accountability and its civilian auditor, that basically came to the same conclusions. But what good is one report when you can get another one that states primarily the same things? 

Second, the City Auditor recommended a clear policy on when and where in-car video cameras should be used, training for officers on how to use the systems, and oversight. As the Seattle Times article makes clear, the report outlines "practice and technical issues" facing the Seattle Police Department. What is interesting is that the same police who are apparently trained in the use of speed measurement devices such as RADAR and LIDAR apparently have some issues with using in-car video, which appears to be a much simpler device. 

One item that was not put in the report: telling the truth. This apparently did not make the list of recommendations. 

Third, the report comes on the heels of criticism from the U.S. Department of Justice, which found in its own December 2011 report that Seattle officers routinely used unconstitutional force while only sporadically making use of the cameras. 

While it's clear that in some cases, video doesn't exist because it wasn't used, it's harder to pinpoint what video exists and how the video is obtainable because the Seattle Police Department has been so against releasing video. In fact, in cases where the City or the police said certain video didn't exist because the video was "thought" to be missing but was later found, city taxpayers ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars in settlements and related court costs as a result of lawsuits. 

So what about the motorist who relies on video to exonerate him or herself?   If the police can't police their own conduct and oversight isn't working, perhaps transparency is the only option. Councilmember Bruce Harrell wants all police to wear body cameras, which would record every interaction an officer has with the public. Such recordings, provided they can be accessed and easily disclosed, would certainly be more transparent and more honest than current dash-cam disclosure--or lack of disclosure--practices for anyone who is cited for a traffic ticket.  


Leave a comment

Your first name (required)
Your last name (required)

Welcome back, !

Your comment (required)