Harmful Body-Worn Camera Policy Being Considered in King County
King County News
As reported last week, King County just approved their police union contract with KCPOG, an agreement that included 20% raises for deputies over the next few years and finally gave the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) subpoena power and independent investigative authority. The agreement also paved the way for use of body-worn cameras (BWC) for the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). While some studies have shown body-worn cameras do not reduce use of force by police, making their use by law enforcement bodies controversial, their adoption was part of a settlement between King County and the family of Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, a 17-year-old killed by police in 2017.
However, two troubling issues regarding these body-worn cameras have recently come to light. First, OLEO requested that in the new King County budget, they be given twelve additional positions, and four additional positions if a contract agreement was reached that included the use of body-worn cameras (coming to a grand total of sixteen new positions). This is because reviewing body-worn and dash camera footage is a time-consuming process that requires more personnel. Instead, only five new positions were included for OLEO in the new budget, and only TWO for 2023, meaning OLEO will be under-resourced to exercise the new breadth of its powers under the ratified contract. It is interesting that the Executive is willing to spend over $50m in salary increases for deputies in the new budget but is unwilling to spend a fraction of that amount to prioritize police accountability and capitalize on hard-won concessions in the police union contract.
Second, the current body-worn camera policy has numerous flaws. As this is the first time body-worn cameras will be used by KCSO, this policy will set departmental norms and expectations. It is important to understand that without a strong and enforceable body-worn camera policy, this technology can actually be used to further shield King County deputies from accountability. Body-worn camera usage will be held up as an example of how accountability is being prioritized, while gigantic loopholes in the policy that render their adoption ineffective will not receive equal time in the spotlight.
As it currently stands, the policy has two major issues that will act as a large impediment to accountability, as well as a few smaller issues, as highlighted by OLEO:
- The best practice for more serious incidents is for a deputy to be interviewed before they get a chance to watch any video footage. That this is best practice is not in dispute. However, in the current policy, deputies will submit an initial written statement and then be allowed to watch any video before being interviewed. For less serious incidents under the current policy, deputies will be allowed to watch the video as they are writing their initial report, whereas OLEO would like them to write the report first, then watch the video, and file a supplemental report if needed after viewing.
- The current policy regarding discretionary recording is purposefully vague, stating that deputies don’t have to record if there is any circumstance that would justify a decision not to record. This lack of specificity will serve as a gigantic loophole, making the stated purpose of mandatory recording toothless, as in practice this will mean deputies can stop recording at any time and command staff can simply shrug and say they miscalculated and need more training.
- Smaller issues include training being required “as needed” instead of on an annual basis, giving cover to deputies making “mistakes” and a policy around what happens if a body-worn camera isn’t working properly, which allows a deputy to wait a week before handing in the faulty equipment and not necessarily receive a replacement while waiting for repair, creating large potential gaps of no video recording.
In addition, King County created the Community Advisory Committee on Law Enforcement Oversight (CACLEO) to advise both the Sheriff’s Office and the King County Council on issues related to equity and social justice. However, CACLEO hasn’t been an integral part of the process in advising on the new body-worn camera policy.
There will be a chance for the public to give comment about the body-worn camera policy at a King County budget committee meeting tomorrow, Thursday, November 10 at 9:30am either in person or via Zoom. You can find more information about how to give comment and a sample script here. You can also email the King County Council before November 15 to give them feedback about this policy.
The prophesied red wave failed to materialize yesterday, and locally we elected several more progressive candidates. On the Seattle Municipal Court, which had two contested judge races this cycle, both winning candidates were the more progressive choice who have less punitive philosophies and will be less likely to criminalize poverty. King County also selected the less punitive prosecutor, Leesa Manion, who will continue investment in proven diversion programs.
The Stranger has announced that fearmongering failed this election cycle, which is frankly a breath of fresh air. Democrats seem newly energized about the upcoming state legislative session, which begins on January 9. The Stranger reports that Senator Pedersen is “working on a bill to make gun manufacturers liable for the “damage their dangerous products cause,” and Dems will also be running a bill to ban sales of assault weapons. “Who knows where we’ll be in terms of the budget, but we’re going to be in a pretty strong position to defend the work we’ve done and to go further in terms of climate and carbon reduction. We’ll also continue to have a good discussion on progressive taxation … and it’s pretty hard to see a mandate out of these results for a dramatic rollback on the police accountability bills,” he said.“ It looks like it could also be a productive session in terms of housing. So get ready to roll up your sleeves and communicate with your state legislators come January.
The budget balancing package will be released next Monday, November 14 at 11am, and the last budget public hearing will be held on Tuesday, November 15 at 5pm. Then final amendments to the budget, which must be self-balancing, will be heard on Monday, November 21.
The final Seattle redistricting map was passed yesterday in a victory for the Redistricting Justice for Seattle coalition. However, it didn’t pass without a final flare of drama, with Commissioner Nickels the sole vote against the final map, saying, “Retribution [against] Magnolia because it is an older, wealthier and whiter community—I think that’s not something that the redistricting commission ought to be engaged in.” Luckily the other commissioners had a strong vision that the commission should be engaged in equity, and thus we have our final map.