Body cams: Police transparency is not free


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In Seattle, Washington, police have launched their own YouTube channel featuring video captured by officers’ body cameras.

Overwhelmed by the time it would take to blur out faces and other identifiable content, Seattle police are using a privately developed tool to electronically redact some images. Most images are blurred and the audio cut as a result.

Officials in Grand Rapids don’t have the option of a high-tech scrubbing tool.

So as the Grand Rapids Police Department prepares to launch its body camera program, the legal department at city hall is preparing to deal with an expected increase in Freedom of Information Act requests for the video. Just like police reports and video generated from squad car dash cameras, body camera video will be available under FOIA.

But before those video are released, the video has to be reviewed frame by frame, making sure those protected by privacy laws, like juveniles and those who don’t have anything to do with what the video captures, are not shown.

“All of that footage will have to be reviewed by the staff person who’s processing the FOIA request,” Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish said.

She says the city may eventually need some extra help.

“Either in the city attorney’s office or in the police department or perhaps both, I think additional staff will have to be added to deal with the body cam implications of the roll out,” Mish said.

Any request for additional personnel would have to be included in the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget, and approved by city commissioners.

No one at city hall, Mish included, is knocking the process or the assumed outcome of body cams and other policies aimed at improving transparency.

“Transparency and public accountability are very important values to the city of Grand Rapids.  And we defiantly want to be both of those things,” Mish said. “There simply is a cost.”

GRPD says officers started field testing body cams on Wednesday. The officers currently wearing the cameras — who are spread among units, services areas and shifts — all volunteered to do so.

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Online:

Seattle PD answers public questions on body cameras

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