City Hall

Harrell Won't Wear Camera He's Been Pushing On Cops

By Jonah Spangenthal-Lee October 6, 2011

For more than a year, Seattle council member Bruce Harrell has been pushing to outfit Seattle police officers with wearable video cameras, a move that could both bolster police accountability, and protect officers from frivolous misconduct complaints.

While Harrell has been the biggest advocate for equipping officers with the cameras— which he has called a “game-changing effort in the world of technology and public safety”—he’s apparently too shy to strap one of the cameras on himself.

The Seattle Police Officers Guild has previously opposed the cameras, as have beat officers who have asked PubliCola if city council members would be forced to wear cameras through their workdays.

“If it’s such a good idea for the officers enforcing the law, what would be wrong with those who write the laws having their interactions with the public recorded?” says Seattle Police Officers Guild President Rich O’Neill, echoing officers’ complaints. “If you want transparency, why the hell not?”

It's a cute point the cops make, though not entirely fair. Council meetings where council members such as Harrell make laws are, in fact, recorded and live-streamed. Although, as O'Neill points out, " All [the council's] closed door meetings are where the real business happens. "

Last week, PubliCola contacted Harrell’s office after securing a camera on-loan from Seattle-based Vievu—one of the companies which produces the police body cameras—to see if Harrell would take officers’ suggestions head-on and wear a personal video camera for a day, to get an idea of what the camera would capture, and what it would feel like for the wearer to constantly be working under the eye of a camera.

Harrell flatly refused our admittedly unorthodox offer and, in an email response, dismissed the idea as a “publicity stunt” which would “have no bearing on whether or not [the cameras] will be deployed.”

While the thought of strapping a camera on may seem a bit wacky—one of his Harrell's stafffers called it a "crazy idea"—wearing the camera, if only for a day, would provide some real first-hand perspective on what actually gets captured by the cameras, and what it's like to have your every word and action recorded for review later on.

The move would also undoubtedly engender some goodwill amongst the officers most concerned about being outfitted with the video recorders.

In his email to me, Harrell argues that council members’ work does “not result in criminal arrests, convictions and costly civil lawsuits.” Ahem, Strippergate.

Harrell said he had "required demonstrations both from Vievu and TASER International and understand how both units work" when asked specifically about much hands-on time he'd spent with the cameras.

Despite Harrell’s best efforts, it remains to be seen whether police will be wearing body cameras anytime soon. According to SPOG’s O’Neill, while the cameras have come up in the guild’s contract negotiations, O’Neill says “there are a lot of hurdles we’d need to iron out.”

We've still got that camera if any other city or department officials are brave enough to step up to the plate.
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