Seattle Law Okays the Recording of Police Activity

Seattle’s City Council on Monday voted “yes” on a measure that allows residents to observe, record and comment on police activity without worry of retaliation.

The only exceptions to the rule are if the observer compromises, delays or hinders police activity, tries to incite violence, or threatens another person’s safety.

“People don’t know what’s in the police-policy manual,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who sponsored the bill. “And the manual governs the actions of officers. It doesn’t tell people what their rights are.”

The Seattle Police Department in 2008 adopted a policy that permits bystanders to remain nearby provided they do not interfere with police activity. Americans can also be protected under the First Amendment when recording or watching police.

But the adoption of the measure means the public’s right to observe the police is now law.

The ordinance states that all police officers should assume that bystanders are observing and recording their actions at all time.

The ordinance states: “The value of video and audio recordings by the public is keenly evident from the recordings in 2016 of the deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge… and law-enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.”

Herbold said that while Seattle police officers are outfitted with body cameras and patrol cars also have cameras, recordings from members of the public is still important. These recordings can show the incident from different angles and can be very useful when police camera’s are not working.

A prevoius version of the ordinance allowed bystanders to sue for damages if their recordings or property were destroyed or damaged by police officers. A claims process is already available, so the ordinance now states that the chief of police and police-accountability officials will be notified of bystander-related claims.

The ordinance, Herbold says, complements another police-accountability measure approved by the City Council on Monday.