SEATTLE -- Seattle police want the right to videotape protests and public demonstrations as a proactive way to fight crime. A city law makes that illegal, so the department is asking for a change in that would let officers track certain people through a camera's lens.
SPD points to the Occupy the Port protest last fall, at which masked protestors threw bricks and paint at police. Once trouble broke out, police turned their cameras on.
Could the violence have been prevented if officers had been videotaping before the demonstration?
The police department would do open videotaping of demonstrations for the sole intent of protecting those who are exercising the First Amendment from those who would harm them, said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, Seattle Police Department.
Under current city law, police are not allowed to collect information about citizens without cause.
According to Seattle Municipal Code, No person shall become the subject of the collection of information on account of lawful exercise of a constitutional right or civil liberty. Changing the law requires city council approval.
The city law was passed in the late 1970s after it was revealed that SPD had amassed secret files on political activists, including Charles Royer, who went on to become mayor.
In an open and free society, we should expect to engage in political activity without surveillance and videotaping, said Jennifer Shaw of the ACLU.
On Seattle streets, there a a difference of opinion on the issue.
The SPDis also testing two airborne surveillance vehicles (aka drones) equipped with cameras, which they say they do not intend to use for surveillance on protests.