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Why Seattle Programmers Sued The Police For GPS Data

Seattle Police Department patch.
Facebook Photo/Seattle Police Officers Guild

David Hyde talks to Eric Rachner, co-founder of the Center for Open Policing, about why the center sued the Seattle Police Department to get years of GPS data recording the whereabouts of patrol cars.

We reached out to the Seattle Police Department for comment on the settlement. The city attorney responded with this statement: 

This case stems from a request to SPD under the Washington Public Records Act, RCW Chapt. 42.56, (PRA) for Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) data electronically captured from police vehicles generated over the course of several years. The AVL data can be used to create a map tracking everywhere those vehicles have gone. It can be linked with SPD incident reports to reveal highly-sensitive locations including domestic violence shelters, the residences of sexual assault victims, child victims,  and victims and witnesses of other crimes who have requested non-disclosure or whose safety may be at risk, as well as officers’ residences, tactical response deployments, etc. 

Plaintiff Center for Open Policing sued the City alleging that the PRA required the City to disclose the non-exempt portions of the data. The parties have entered into a settlement agreement with Plaintiff to produce the redacted data. The Plaintiff and its attorney will receive approximately $30,000 for PRA penalties, costs and fees. The City has agreed to undertake the complicated task of redacting the data, which will cost approximately $45,000.

This case illustrates the dilemma that agencies face as they implement electronic systems that generate massive volumes of data containing both exempt and non-exempt information.  Some Washington police agencies have not implemented body cameras because of the obligations and costs imposed by the PRA.

Year started with KUOW: 2004