On June 12, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and in favor of public access to dashboard cameras installed in Seattle police officer’s squad cars. The ruling represents a significant victory for transparency and the police accountability movement.
A local news syndicate, KOMO, had requested access to the footage from police dashcams, but they were continually denied even though the Public Records Act (PRA) mandated that, if requested, the police would release the footage recorded. SPD maintained their stance of not releasing video until three years after the recording, and also failed to mention that video older than three years old was deleted. According to Dominic Holden, writing in the Stranger:
KOMO sought the records as part of a series about SPD using excessive force and biased policing, which were the subject of a federal investigation and subsequent settlement to reform the police department. SPD refused to cough them up, making a series of bizarre, implausible claims about being unable to locate the records and having “no documents.” The SPD eventually claimed they had a three-year window in which to withhold the video footage (but then, the SPD automatically erased dash-cam footage after three years). In the meantime, the SPD released the videos to a citizen, belying claims the records were nonexistent or impossible to find.