He taught himself basic Java Script and CSS, and he learned the programming language Python after he showed up at a mathematics lab at the University of Washington and offered to volunteer in exchange for high-school credit. “I’m very impulsive, and I don’t like rules.”Day 1 of his record attempt was a fluke.
Only in cases under actual, pending litigation could the police withhold video footage from the people. The first was logistical and financial: Seattle Police were sitting on more than 1.5 million individual dashcam and surveillance videos, or about 300,000 hours and 350 terabytes total.
Before releasing any footage, someone in the department had to review and redact it in accordance with the specific privacy exemptions the state code did have.
The case stemmed from a series of public-records requests by a reporter for the local television station KOMO, Tracy Vedder, who began filing them after the same high-profile incidents that would lead to the consent decree.
She asked for user manuals to the department’s new system of in-car dashboard cameras, then for lists of dashcam recordings, then for some of the recordings themselves.
The process was manual, a painstaking, frame-by-frame ordeal.
By one estimate, 169 people would have to work for a year just to fulfill the department’s existing video requests, and the department added 2,000 new video clips daily.Many people think of body cameras as a tool for police accountability, but the primary subject of their surveillance isn’t the police — it’s the public.“I believe in open government, I really do,” Perry told me, “but I don’t think people have really wrapped their heads around all the implications.” If the bodycam pilot was deemed a success, and the city expanded the program to the rest of its 850 front-line officers, all of them now walking surveillance cameras, what then? “I like to think I can walk into a room, take a complex problem and break it down into its component parts,” he says.“This meeting, I walked out thinking: Wow, this is complicated.Dashcam videos were already a concern, but Seattle had also been considering using body cameras.In fact, the Police Department was now preparing a small pilot program involving a dozen officers from a single precinct to test the hardware.This is messy.”In 2011, three years before Wagers joined the department, a 20-year-old programmer named Tim Clemans set the record for consecutive daily visits to Seattle’s Space Needle.“The main reason I go everyday,” he wrote in an online journal documenting his record attempt, “is because on July 7, 2010, I attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge.Washington State agencies cannot deny requests for records because the requester is anonymous or the request is too broad, nor can they deny requests simply in order to protect an individual’s privacy; instead, agencies must redact only the details deemed sensitive under state code — for example, some addresses, sometimes the face of a minor — and disclose the rest.Before the court, Perry had argued that a different law, the state’s Privacy Act, which allows departments to withhold recordings until related criminal or civil cases are resolved, should take precedent and the Seattle Police should be allowed to broadly deny Vedder’s requests until the relevant statute of limitations ran out. As Perry now told Wagers and the officials gathered in the chief’s conference room, Seattle and other departments across the state were operating in a new reality.When the elevator starts its ascent and the city comes into view, the people inside either fall silent or gasp out loud.From the observation deck, you can see mountains in four directions, water in two and, just to the south, a forest of skyscrapers. The lights of the radio towers on adjacent Queen Anne Hill, a seeming stone’s throw away, blink on and off.