By Jerry Jones
Gazette Editor 

Body camera dispute at Spokane raises questions

 


A lead story in the Spokesman Review June 1 projected a different view of where police body camera footage can be seen. The report included a photo of the kind of camera Spokane Police wear when they go on duty.

The story involved body camera footage that possibly could have involved police policy violations on the part of officers involved in a February arrest and chase.

The core of the SR account reported members of the Spokane City Council had requested a look at the footage. The police department agreed to give the council members a look but only on condition that they sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Council members declined to sign the non-disclosure, and they did not get a look at the footage.

Spokane Chief Craig Medil confirmed that the video contained evidence of policy violations, but denied any suggestion that the department was attempting to downplay the incident which involved a chase of a 29-year-old male.

Medil explained the internal affairs review of the case was initiated by a private citizen through the Spokane Police Ombudsman.

The chief said one of his aims was to avoid the police department becoming a political football.

Council President Ben Stuckart, who is now running for mayor at Spokane, said the council decided to wait until the general public gets a look at the video. He said Medil's request for non-disclosure was totally unacceptable and noted the council represents the people.


The close control of arrest video goes against the demand for television footage of police work. Body camera footage seems to be part of the mix of television action shots which include front porch surveillance pictures and cell phone photos taken by witnesses at crime scenes.

Television needs action footage for news broadcasts and the need generates a demand for the action photos. Often the action pictures are used in leadoff stories for a news segment which later includes a short account of what happened.

The Spokane deadlock generates a question of how whatever police policy violations might have been seen by city council members could be converted into a political football mode, possibly in the race for mayor which appears to be between Stuckart and former TV news anchor Nadine Woodward.

That extrapolation probably requires knowledge of the Spokane political turf which isn't available here.

The other basic question is how and when the pictures taken by police body cameras are made available for public viewing. The people making those decisions can have an impact on what voters see on their television screens and weigh when they subsequently cast a ballot.


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