News Clips— Council backs cop-cams

AND NOW FOR something completely different: a Seattle policing program that everyone can agree with.

On Monday the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a $200,000 pilot program to test the use of video cameras in 14 Seattle police cars. Supported by police critics, department bigwigs, and line officers themselves (through the Seattle Police Officers' Guild), the program will both equip 10 cars with VHS cameras and test experimental digital cameras in another four police cruisers. All 14 cameras should be in use by October 1.

The cameras have been used in other jurisdictions for several years. Last month, a Gainesville, Fla., police officer was charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a motorist during a traffic stop. As the police officer was alone and the motorist died shortly after the shooting, charges might not have been filed without the videotaped evidence of the incident.

Council Public Safety Committee chair Jim Compton says the council first discussed installing cameras in police cars while drafting last year's resolution condemning the use of racial profiling. During debate on the resolution, council member Peter Steinbrueck successfully amended it to include the call for the pilot program.

Steinbrueck and Compton say the council's slow-going approach makes sense. Although digital cameras are still in the testing stages, the resulting images would be far easier to store and search than hours of VHS tape. "I would hate to see us install VHS in all cars, only to find out a year later that there's much better equipment out," says Steinbrueck.

Finding the $2 million or so needed to equip the entire fleet of 220 police cruisers is also a tough challenge, notes Compton. The council already faces the potential task of trimming more than $9 million from its projected 2002 budget.

He adds that this is the second program to emerge from the recent controversies over the use of force by police. Nonlethal Taser stun guns have been issued to the city's four police precincts.

Compton, whose committee has been a battleground on issues relating to police conduct, seems elated to notch this victory. "It's important to me that people know the system, at some level, is working," he says.

James Bush

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