Society

Seattle Mayor Orders City Police To Wear Body Cameras

| by Selena Darlim
A body camera on a North Charleston police officer.A body camera on a North Charleston police officer.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order on July 17 that will require all Seattle patrol officers to wear body cameras while on duty. The announcement, which bypassed body camera negotiations that were taking place with the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, comes one month after lack of recorded evidence raised questions about the shooting of Seattle resident Charleena Lyles and a matter of days after the resurfacing of allegations that Murray sexually abused his foster son in the 1980s.

The Seattle Times reported Murray seemed frustrated when speaking about how negotiations with the officers' guild had been going, lamenting that they had gone "around and around and around trying to reach an agreement."

Murray ultimately decided to push the order through because talks had stalled, reports The Associated Press. He believes it is the best move for the safety of both Seattle residents and patrol officers. Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole is also in support of the body camera program.

"We have taken far too long to fully implement the body camera program due to legislative gridlock," Murray said in a press statement. "It is past time to move forward. This order will get cameras on officers on the street, so we know what happens during interactions with the public."

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The order will require bike patrol officers in downtown Seattle and nearby areas to begin wearing cameras as soon as July 22.  The entire West Precinct will have cameras by Sept. 30, with implementation in other precincts gradually rolling out after that.

Kevin Stuckey, president of the officer's guild, was confused by Murray's actions and called the order "unnecessary" because negotiations were still underway.

Stuckey told The Seattle Times that the union had been working toward implementing a body camera program. He said Murray's plan is not "sustainable" and may lead to a program with "many holes in it." He did not rule out the chance of filing an unfair labor practice complaint.

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U.S. District Judge James Ropart had already been scheduled to discuss a five-year-old consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department that requires the Seattle Police Department to mitigate the use of excessive force. Ropart had signed off on SPD's body camera program in May, allowing negotiations with the officers' guild to begin.

Ropart said he would not let the union hold up the body camera program on account of asking for wage hikes, which they have allegedly done for other reforms in the past, reports The Seattle Times.

In June, the guild reportedly asked for a 1.5 percent wage increase in return for wearing body cameras following the death of Lyles, a 30-year-old African-American mother who was killed in her home by two white police officers in June.

Lyles, who was said to have mental health issues, called the police to her home to report a burglary. In an audio recording, the officers were heard calmly talking with Lyles before suddenly shouting "Get back!" One officer shouted to use a stun gun on her, to which the other replied that he did not have a stun gun. Lyles was eventually shot.

The officers claimed Lyles had approached them with two knives. Because no video evidence was recorded, it's still not clear exactly what occurred.

Murray later spoke with neighbors of Lyles, as well as African-American ministers. Both expressed concerns over the lack of police body cameras, The Seattle Times reports.

The mayor's order comes during his own scandal after reports that he sexually abused his foster child in 1984 were released by news outlets.  Although he was relieved of charges at the time due to the child's mental state, an investigation by Oregon Child Protective Services reported the allegations to be true.

Murray, a Democratic legislator and a gay activist, has consistently denied sexual abuse accusations from his foster son and other men, claiming they were political attempts to sabotage him.  

Although Murray said the order for police to wear body cameras was not related to his sexual abuse allegations, his time left to pass legislation is short.  He says the allegations have dissuaded him from launching a re-election bid, meaning he will leave office once his term ends later in 2017.

Sources: AP via The Olympian, The Seattle Times (2, 3) / Photo credit: Ryan Johnson/Flickr, Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons (2)

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