Police wrangling with balancing privacy issues and body cameras

Police wrangling with balancing privacy issues and body cameras

SPOKANE, Wash. - Earlier this week, 17 Spokane police officers started wearing body cameras, however the department is holding off outfitting all officers until it resolves some thorny issues about how much of that video should be made public.

At least once a month, the Spokane Police Department is called to the Monroe Street Bridge to deal with someone who's contemplating jumping off. The question is, should negotiations with that person be recorded and if so, should the public be able to see what happens next?

Washington is a two party consent state so technically the officers contacting this despondent man would have to inform him that they were recording his plight with body cams.

"Could we exacerbate that crisis mode by saying we have to record this? Do we potentially escalate the situation? Do we push people over the edge," Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub said.

Another concern about the body cams is does the public have the right to refuse permission to be recorded? What about eyewitnesses at crime scenes? Should police be able to protect their identity?

"That's an issue we're now looking at from a legal perspective," Straub said. "Do I, as a police officer, have a right to override your denial of me recording the conversation with you?"

Washington state also has some of the most liberal public records requests laws in the county. The news media can even get access to video interrogations before they go to court. So if a man jumps off a bridge, should the public be able to see it in a body cam video? What about when police tell the victim's family he's dead?

"Death notifications, are we exposing people, in a time of sadness, in crisis, their reaction to that notification, does that become public? And should it become public," Straub asked.

Straub did not wait to get answers to those questions before putting 17 body cams out in the field, but he plans to spend the next three month gathering input from the community, including public demonstrations of what this new hardware can see but also the action it might miss.

The police department will hold a town hall meeting where you can see those body cams at work and and help shape the policy that will guide their use on Oct. 30 at 5:30 p.m. at Cataldo Hall on the Gonzaga University campus.