On Monday, Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order requiring all Seattle patrol officers to wear body cameras.
For some officers, the change takes effect almost immediately.
The order mandates body cameras on West Precinct bike patrol officers by this Saturday, July 22. By September 30, all West Precinct officers must do the same. After that, the Seattle Police Department will be required to implement the cameras on a monthly, precinct-by-precinct basis, until all officers are wearing them.
Murray made the announcement in a two-minute long video message in which he references public outcry over the recent death of Charleena Lyles. Lyles was shot and killed by two Seattle police officers in June.
The mayor called police body cameras an "accountability tool" that might have helped provide answers about exactly what happened the morning Lyles was killed.
"There is a way for the public to know what happens during these use of force incidents," said Murray. "A way to resolve disputed facts in police shootings: Body cameras for police."
Murray said research has shown body cameras improve civilian encounters with police and ultimately reduce the use of force and reduce community complaints. He also cited a study that found 92 percent of Seattleites want to see body cameras on officers. That study was commissioned by the federal monitor overseeing the city's compliance with the federally mandated Consent Decree.
"This is good news for officers because it will provide evidence of their professionalism. And it's good news for the public because it will provide evidence of any misconduct. We can no longer deprive Seattle of this important tool," said Murray.
But the president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild said he was blindsided by the mayor's announcement.
"I was confused because I thought we were part of the process," said SPOG President Kevin Stuckey.
Stuckey says there are still a lot of unanswered questions about exactly how the body camera program would even work.
"For example, if I'm an officer and I show up to a disturbance between a man and woman and I get there and the man says turn the camera off and the woman says keep the camera on and they're both residents there. What do I do? These are questions that have to be answered," said Stuckey.
He said the police union is still working to answer those questions, negotiating details of the city's body camera policy through the collective bargaining process. And because of those ongoing negotiations, Stuckey also questions the legality of the mayor's order.
"The mayor is violating state law. There are collective bargaining rights that we all have to adhere to, him as well as me," said Stuckey. "We are mandated by state law on how to collectively bargain."
Perhaps in anticipation of that response from the union, Murray's order says that "in order to fully comply with the city's collective bargaining obligations under Washington law, the Labor Relations Unit of the Seattle Human Resources Department shall continue to engage in bargaining the effects of implementing this body-worn video program upon officer and sergeant working conditions, including but not limited to effects on discipline and privacy."
The executive order says such bargaining may occur prior to and after implementation of the body camera program.
Despite the union's concerns, Stuckey said officers will abide by the mayor's order.
"July 22nd, will come and the professionals that are the men and women of the Seattle Police Department will continue to do just that, be professional," said Stuckey.
But he does plan to consult with the union's legal team and says they could still file a labor grievance against the city, or even sue.
Meanwhile, Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell issued a statement in support of the mayor's executive order, saying that the federal monitor as well as the federal judge have approved the use of police body cameras.
"I support the Mayor's decision to use his executive order authority to immediately begin equipping police officers with body cameras. While we respect the collective bargaining process and have been very patiently working with all parties involved, deploying cameras on our police officers is long overdue," said Harrell.
Chief of Police Kathleen O'Toole also issued a statement, saying the Seattle Police Department is committed to moving forward with an implementation strategy.
"No one is more committed to to equipping officers with body cameras than I am. As studies and our own pilot have shown, body cameras are critical tools, not just for holding all involved to account for their actions, but also to enhance safety of officers and community members," O'Toole said in part.
Murray says that other major cities have already implemented the use of body cameras, including Oakland, Denver, Atlanta, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.
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