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Police Say Body Cameras Don't Work Under State Law

Police agencies in Washington have started piloting the use of body-worn cameras. It’s a step supported by many officers, reformers, and the Obama administration to address police use of force. But both police and police watchdogs say the cameras are unworkable under current state law.

TRANSCRIPT

Several police agencies in Washington state have piloted the use of body-worn cameras in the past year. Some told the state’s House Judiciary Committee Thursday that officers find less need to use force when they wear the cameras. 

But Bellingham Police Chief Clifford Cook says his department received a request for all camera footage within weeks of starting their pilot project last fall. That request, which is allowed under current state law, slowed their use of the cameras.

Cook: “The program continues to move along. We have not fully implemented it across our department because of costs and some concerns around the issues regarding open records requests.”

Many in law enforcement support a bill to limit public disclosure and give local agencies more discretion over how they use the cameras. A rival bill supported by police oversight groups would require that officers keep their cameras on at all times except for scheduled breaks and use the footage only to investigate misconduct.

Shar Lichty spoke on behalf of Spokane’s Peace and Justice Action League.

Lichty: “We had a police shooting where the camera was not turned on. If the camera’s not turned on in these incidents, why are they even wearing them, why are we spending money on them?”

The Seattle Police Department is also piloting body-worn cameras. The city’s Community Police Commission is asking that the Legislature and SPD “push pause” and seek more public input before moving forward. They say the cameras raise too many issues that haven’t yet been resolved. 

Year started with KUOW: 2005