Bodycams on Olympia cops start in August


Olympia police officers will start wearing body-worn cameras in August and launch in-car video systems in mid-2023, Olympia Police Chief Rich Allen said at the virtual Town Hall last night.

During the town hall, held by the city to allow community members to ask questions to the newly-appointed chief of police, Allen said the purpose of this change is to increase transparency, enhance accountability and capture opportunities for officers to learn and improve.

"When we roll this out to the community, we will have an open house. People may come to the station, look at the equipment, and ask questions," said Allen, who briefly discussed the body-worn cameratechnologies.

He anticipated there would be a lot of questions surrounding privacy and what to do with the video. "We will be able to answer all those questions."

FAQs page is coming

Allen added the police department is currently developing a Frequently Asked Questions page on the city’s website. They culled Q&A from the questions forwarded by the community members who participated in the survey conducted by the OPD.

As soon as the Olympia city council adopted a resolution allowing police to acquire and use body-worn cameras and in-car video systems, the OPD launched a community-wide survey on May 11 on the city's Engage Olympia website. The survey ended on May 25. They received 114 responses.

Addressing concerns

The police chief also appeared at the Community Livability and Public Safety Committee meeting last Wednesday, June 22, to discuss the overview of the body-worn camera and in-car camera systems implementation.

Citing their survey, Allen said there was a lot of concern about privacy, public disclosure requirements/request, and protecting minors and members of marginalized communities – including black, indigenous, people of color, individuals with disabilities and others.

There were also questions on police officers' accountability for turning the camera off, obstructing or disabling cameras.

Allen recounted that many people expressed privacy concerns when they started discussing body-worn cameras from 2015 to 2016. "The public exposure and privacy laws did not keep up with technology then, but that has been fixed."

He said some examples of the things they can redact from a video if they get a public disclosure request include:

  • Area of the medical facility, counseling center, therapeutic office, and anything that would violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy requirements, or anything that identifies a patient inside of one of these areas.
  • Interior of a residence where a person has reasonable expectation of privacy.

"We can blur out the identifying things inside the residence on the video so you can't tell who’s house it is," the police chief said.

  • Intimate images, as well as depiction of minors or deceased persons

Allen said officer accountability was one of the significant concerns among the community members.

He said officers are expected to turn on their cameras when making contact with the public in their law-enforcement capacity.

"If an officer gets out of his car and goes to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee, don't expect the camera to be on them. But if inside Starbucks, someone starts talking about a criminal activity that the officer needs to respond to, then yes, the camera needs to be turned on," he explained.

Once the camera is turned on, it cannot be turned off until the officer's involvement in whatever incident has concluded.

They will apply some exceptions, however. The camera will be turned off when talking with a child, domestic violence, or sexual assault victim. 

"If the privacy concern of the person being interviewed outweighs the public's interest, the officer should be able to turn the camera off. I would hate for someone – a victim of some crime - to not want to talk to a police officer, fearing that that camera is rolling and people will have access to it," Allen said.

"We will come up with language that will address that."


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