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SPD weighs in on transparency

As part of Mayor McGinn’s SPD 20/20 – A Vision for the Future plan, the Seattle Police Department has committed to create and implement a transparency initiative to ensure release of information to the maximum extent allowed by law (Initiative 18 – Improve Transparency and Accountability).

For this purpose, SPD will convene a working group of stakeholders to consider and propose legislation in the next session to overcome obstacles to release of information, including body and dash cam video.

Under existing Washington state law and SPD policy, any person who is shown in police dash camera video — whether as a suspect in alleged criminal activity, or a victim of alleged police misconduct, or both — has an absolute right to request and receive video depicting their incident at any time. 

In order to protect individual privacy, Washington law restricts release of video to media and others without the consent of persons shown in the video. SPD is prohibited from releasing video to third parties “until final disposition of any criminal or civil litigation which arises from the event or events which were recorded.”  RCW  9.73.090.

Because of uncertainties as to whether and when litigation of any given case will be will be resolved, SPD’s policy has been to withhold general release of video to the media for three years, which is the statute of limitations for filing of most civil and criminal lawsuits.SPD  

Wednesday, the King County Superior Court agreed with SPD that this is a correct interpretation of existing Washington law.

SPD’s objective is to balance individual privacy interests, legitimate law enforcement needs, and public interest in transparency in a way that complies with State law. We remain committed to improving transparency and accountability to the maximum extent allowed by law.

We invite interested members of the public to engage in a dialogue as to potential legislative changes, to help ensure that Washington law accurately reflects public values.