Padden bill on police body cameras receives hearing in Senate committee

Today the Senate Law and Justice Committee received public testimony on Senate Bill 6408, aimed at clarifying the rules surrounding the use of police body cameras. The measure is sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the ranking member on the committee.

In 2016, the Legislature passed House Bill 2362, which established public-disclosure and other requirements relating to body-worn camera recordings and created the Joint Legislative Task Force on Body Worn Cameras.

“We had great participation on the task force, and the result is that we ended up with a bill that is somewhat narrow, but is a consensus measure that we can all support,” said Padden, who co-chaired the task force.

“Body cams are generally a good thing, and they show what they show. They protect the public against police excesses, which do happen, and they protect officers from false allegations.

“Overall this is a balanced bill that supports truth and accountability while protecting privacy and decency in the process.”

Padden’s measure would make permanent the existing requirements and Public Records Act provisions governing body-worn cameras and apply them to all law-enforcement and corrections agencies deploying body-worn cameras. His bill also would strengthen privacy protections for intimate images in such recordings, and clarify record-retention requirements for body-worn camera recordings.

Mary Perry, Seattle Police Department director of transparency and privacy, testified in favor of the bill.

“Requests are much more targeted,” Perry told the committee. “What we are finding is that we are receiving half as many requests with body-worn cameras as we are for our dash-cam video, and I believe this is due to the cost of redaction.” She stated that the cost sharing for privacy redactions of body-cam footage has not prevented the public from receiving video evidence, but has reduced the broad-based, fishing-expedition requests for massive amounts of video recordings.

Kelly Starr with the Washington Coalition against Domestic Violence, which was represented on the task force, testified that the bill provides important privacy protections for the survivors of domestic violence and abuse. According to Starr, many abuse victims are reluctant to come forward out of privacy concerns. Without the protections found in the bill, she testified, fewer victims may come forward.

James McMahan with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs also spoke in support of the bill. “Body cams are important for accountability,” said McMahan, who stated that expanded use of body cams is a goal of his organization. He testified that the protections included in the bill would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

A number of citizens also testified that they support the bill, due to the privacy protections afforded to children captured in body-cam video recordings.

The Law and Justice Committee now has until Friday, the legislative deadline for action on policy bills, to advance SB 6408. Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle and the chair of the committee, is a co-sponsor of the bill, which has broad bipartisan support and is expected to be approved.