Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill that will make a change to the public records law in Washington, potentially making it possible to add more police body cameras in the state. The law will limit who can request body camera footage, making it impossible for someone to ask for every second of video from any given agency.
Despite the change, it won’t apply to any agency unless they have a pilot program up and running by June of this year. There's also a sunset clause on the law which means it will expire in 2019. It will likely help agencies like the Seattle Police Department which already have programs in place, but it won’t do any good for departments like the King County Sheriff’s Office.
“My overall thoughts remind me of Christmas and somebody gives me a little toy that I really wanted badly, but it’s the wrong color. I’ll take the toy but God, I wish I had gotten the red one,” King County Sheriff John Urquhart said.
Urquhart says the law is a step forward but said because of the tight timetable to get a program up and running, it won’t apply to his staff.
For months, the sheriff has been fighting to change the public records law that was preventing police agencies in Washington from getting body cameras. Under the current law, someone can request every second of body camera footage from any department. If someone were to make that request, it would require an editor to look at every second of video and blur the faces of people like undercover cops, informants, and victims. Agencies do not have the money or the staff to make that happen. This law now puts restrictions on who can request footage.
“You have to have a tie to that specific footage,” Sheriff Urquhart said. “Either you’re a victim, or you’re the media that needs to see that, or it’s a court case, or a suspect, those kinds of things.”
“We clearly want to be transparent it’s just an issue of cost,” Sheriff Urquhart said. “How can we have this really valuable program, valuable to the police, valuable to a Sheriff, valuable to the citizens, how can we do it an cost effective manner that’s not breaking the bank?”
The law requires that a task force is set up in the next few years to look at how the legislation is working. It also requires that departments who move forward with body camera programs establish policies on when officers can turn on and turn off the cameras.