Seattle ‘Loses’ 100,000 Dashboard Videos


This is the least shocking news I’ve heard all week. Faced with a FOIA request for dashboard cam videos of police misconduct, one of the worst cities in the country for police brutality has conveniently misplaced more than 100,000 of those videos.

More than 100,000 dashcam videos have disappeared from the Seattle Police Department, prompting city investigators to recommend the department do a better job of tracking and saving those videos.

For more than a year, KOMO News fought for access to the department’s dashcam videos and video catalog to see if they show questionable behavior by officers.

Denied again and again, KOMO eventually sued.

As Seattle defends itself against that lawsuit, on Wednesday the city auditor released a report detailing the problems with how SPD handles dashcam videos and how it responds to the public’s request to see them.

The auditor found inconsistent documentation about whether videos requested by public disclosure were even found or sent. After 90 days, video is deleted and moved to a backup system, which the report said is too difficult to access. Additionally, the cameras themselves can shut down to preserve battery life, which prevents recording and delays the video from being uploaded after an officer’s shift.

But buried in the report is the fact that 105,000 videos disappeared in 2008 after two hardware failures.

As if by magic…

Comments

  1. baal says

    I kind of wonder about all the traffic and fixed emplacement city owned cameras as well. This particular loss is awfully convenient. It might not be a bad idea to urge other local stations to make the same request and see what happens.

  2. Gregory in Seattle says

    I am starting to think that I should change my FtB handle. Seattle really is a lovely city, as long as you can avoid the police.

  3. Randomfactor says

    If judges started overturning convictions because the videos went missing, I bet they’d start showing up right quick.

  4. Gregory in Seattle says

    @Randomfactor #5 – Alas, that is not the case. In the absence of supporting evidence, it comes down to the cop’s testimony vs. the accused’s testimony.

    That is exactly why these videos vanish down an oubliette to be lost forever. Without proof that the police acted improperly, the assumption is that the police acted above reproach and that that the accused is the liar.

  5. says

    Is Rose Mary Woods handling the data preservation in the Seattle PD?

    There’s a funny story a friend of mine (Carl Ellison, a fairly well-known cryptographer) told me about that. Apparently when he was a grad student he worked at Dolby’s lab, and when the Nixon tapes were “accidentally” erased they were sent to Dolby for examination. After all, he was the mighty god of noise-reduction at that time and they thought maybe he could do something clever to extract a signal. According to Carl, Dolby examined the signal on the tapes and concluded that the tapes had “accidentally” been erased over 11 times with a ballast from a flourescent light across the input jack of the tape recorder. Apparently that was the CIA’s preferred method at the time. Oddly, this interesting finding didn’t make it into the news in DC.

  6. Stevarious says

    But buried in the report is the fact that 105,000 videos disappeared in 2008 after two hardware failures.

    BLAM!

    “Looks like it failed…” *sunglasses* “to stop a bullet!”

    “Dammit Jerry, that stopped being funny 15 hard drives ago!”

  7. Ben P says

    This sort of crap makes lawyers tear their hair out.

    In the case of police I think the document retention policies for use of force incidents are borderline bad faith, but they are what they are.

    If you want to be squeaky clean in this regard the solution is easy, (1) you set a written document policy. (All files are deleted after 90 days) And (2) you stick to it religiously.

    If someone makes a request before 90 days is up, you need to put a stay on the documents. If someone asks before 90 days up and files are gone, you better have a good explanation.

  8. d cwilson says

    Is Rose Mary Woods handling the data preservation in the Seattle PD?

    Or Fawn Hall?

    (Hey, it’s a slightly more recent reference than yours was!)

  9. cafink says

    After 90 days, video is deleted and moved to a backup system, which the report said is too difficult to access.

    Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

  10. neonsequitur says

    “Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”

    Defeating the purpose IS the purpose, I think.

  11. says

    All of these cars are online so that the cops can look up a suspect’s driving record. Use that connection to upload the dash-cam footage to a remote server maintained by an auditing authority. Fat chance, I know.

  12. zmidponk says

    After 90 days, video is deleted and moved to a backup system, which the report said is too difficult to access.

    Unless I’m missing something, as long as they’re using even moderately modern technology for their camera footage and storage, the only kind of backup system that could be ‘too difficult to access’ is a backup system that is deliberately designed that way.

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