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SPD Hosts Hackathon To Address Mass Redactions In Records Requests

Timothy Clemans (left) and Seattle Police COO Mike Wagers at the hackathon, Friday, December 19, 2014.
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

The Seattle Police Department took an unusual step Friday to address issues surrounding the release of police video recordings: They invited area tech experts to the department’s first ever hackathon.

KUOW’s John O’Brien reports.


State law requires broad access to public records, including police videos, but some of that information is private. And removing private information from videos is a painstaking process. Assistant City Attorney Mary Perry stressed the scale of the problem.

Perry: “We currently have over a million and a half in car videos. We have received requests for all of them. It is a huge redaction job.”

SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers says finding a solution is crucial. He came up with the idea of a hackathon.

Wagers: “We need to figure out a way out of this, because the way we’re doing it now is certainly not going to work.”

Wagers decided to get creative. He asked the person who made the most public records requests to help out: Timothy Clemans. Clemans recently requested all police videos. He describes himself as a freelance computer programmer. He says the records request was simply to make a point.

Clemans responded to Mike Wagers. He dropped his request and attended the SPD hackathon.

He even came up with one idea: A program that blurs video enough to help keep individual identities private.

Wagers says he’ll weigh the results and come up with a proposal for records release changes in the New Year.

For KUOW News, I’m John O’Brien.

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