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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Police Cameras 2: Recording The Cops

Gosline, a white man in his mid-20s, says he used his cell phone to take photographs as officers beat Alley-Barnes with fists and nightsticks along the knees, torso, and face and bashed his head repeatedly into the asphalt. Then, Gosline says, another cop appeared, pepper-sprayed him in the face and hauled him and three friends up to the East Precinct on 12th Avenue. There, Gosline says, the officers confiscated his phone, which they returned when he was released early Wednesday morning. When he opened it again, he says, the photographs were gone. -"Face Off" The Stranger Weekly 04/21/05

As we've noted before, the city enjoys recording it's citizens on a regular basis and has been investing millions of dollars on even more surveillance technologies, but it's always had a very big problem allowing it's citizens to keep an eye on them, especially it's own problematic police department.

In addition to refusing to put cameras in the areas of police precincts where detainees are transported or held in order to ensure their rights are not violated, the city allows officers to control when their dashcams are recording. Additionally the city also has a record of refusing FOIA requests regarding police disciplinary activities and it constantly fails to discipline officers for violating the rights of innocent bystanders and detainees alike... All in all, Seattle is likely one of the most restrictive cities for it's size in the US in regards to civil rights.

Well, some of you may have read the story in the newspaper or at least noticed the news item in our "Seattle Misconduct News" links on the sidebar, but the city has supposedly clarified the policy for how bystanders are to be treated when they witness or take photographs of police activity.

Of course, the refined policy is the result of the lawsuit against the city that was settled last year in response to a bystander being arrested when he would not relinquish his camera to officers when they demanded it after he legally took photographs of an arrest in progress.

Of course, while we would like to see this actual policy in order to determine what loopholes were left in it for officers, especially since the ACLU of Washington State was a party to the refinement and they don't have a very good history of helping government entities write policies that protect the rights of detainees; after all, they didn't do a good job protecting detainee rights at the King County Jail when they helped the county rewrite their policies... but so far the exact wording of this new policy has been kept secret.

Indeed, given the number of allegations of some very blatant abuses of authority used by Seattle police officers to destroy evidence of misconduct and detain witnesses of abusive behavior, it's clear that any such policy needs to be iron-clad. However, given the city's willingness to weaken oversight and accountability reforms under pressure from the police union and dismantling of the civilian oversight system that monitored SPD internal investigations, it seems as though this is merely yet another PR effort.

In fact, one only needs to read a few of the comments under the article about this new policy to see allegations of how Seattle Police officers illegally intimidate witnesses of brutality, something probably not covered in their new policy:

From "Vinella" in response to the Seattle PI article:
I once watched a confrontation between police officers and an unarmed black man waiting on a bus on Stewart Street behind the old Frederick & Nelson Building. I was across the street in my pizza restaurant, making lunch, when the guy, who had been standing there for at least ten minutes, reading a book, suddenly threw his hands up in the air and went bug-eyed. Ten cops descended on him, guns drawn, shouting things even I could hear through my windows. They shouted for him to get face down and the guy kept on asking why. Finally, he got down on his stomach and the officers felt obliged to administer a few swift kicks in the ribs and one club shot to his head while he was lying prone. I watched the whole thing, until they had him subdued and in custody. I grabbed one of my business cards and walked across the street. I gave the guy the card and offered, in full view and earshot of the officers, to testify on his behalf when he went to court. Then I left.

Within 15 seconds, three cops were in my shop, all badgering me about helping the guy. "You don't know what you saw!", one kept shouting. "You don't even know why we were arresting him!", said the other. Finally, I told all three to shut up and reminded them they were in MY shop without MY permission. "What I KNOW is that I watched a guy read a book for ten minutes, minding his own business, and then you guys come in and force him to the pavement, kick him and club him, when he is IN NO WAY resisting arrest. If the guy was so freakin' guilty of something, WHY would he spend ten minutes reading a book on a busy city street, and not be running somewhere to hide?" They continued to argue until I finally grabbed my phone and dialed the Chief's office to report them. THAT'S what I see from the Seattle P.D., not the calm, clear-eyed, unruffled professionalism so many claim to practice...

Given reported events of witness intimidation and wrongful confiscation of photographic evidence like these and a lack of accountability for the officers who violate the rights of bystanders and detainees, it's doubtful that this highly publicized "new policy" is anything other than yet more smoke and mirrors to cover for all the bad press the city has been getting for it's failure to control it's own police force and protect the rights of it's citizenry.


Anonymous said...

Sir, Please check the Supreme Court rulings.... there is absolutely no expectation of privacy when someone is out in public, i.e a city park. Thank you sir. And keep you for blog, as it is an entertaining place to read.

Packratt said...

Ah, well, that would be a good point if I stated somewhere that there was some sort of violation of any expectations of privacy in regards to the city's investments in surveillance technology...but I hadn't.

What I did suggest, however, is that it is quite interesting that while the police don't mind setting up cameras to monitor the activities of civilians and while there are no laws that prohibit employers from recording the activities of employees in open workspaces, the police have been quite persistent in stating that they feel their supposed "right to privacy" would be violated if they were recorded while on the job if cameras were put into precincts to monitor how they treated detainees and if they were not able to control when dashcams were recording them while on the clock... let alone their attempts to limit the rights of citizens to record them in action.

We are all supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law, but some insist on being more equal than others it seems.

Thank you for the comment none the less.

(See, like I said, if you are civil about your criticism I have no problem letting you post it... and yes, I know it's you, officer)

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