While tensions have been on the rise between police officers and citizens in many parts of the country, the Seattle Police Department called upon the community for help. The first ever hackathon held by the Seattle PD took place on Friday with a single focus on how to redact the video streams recorded by police officer dashcams and body cameras.
The event brought together software developers, coders, and interested technology lovers. City mayor Ed Murray and police chief Kathleen O’Toole also visited the event to encourage collaboration between the police and the community.
The hackathon focused on the issues of transparency and privacy as the police aim to find a way to edit footage from their cameras to protect identities while still being able to release video to the public in adherence to requests filed under the state of Washington’s Public Records Act.
The SPD have already collected over 350 terabytes of footage, a number that will increase rapidly as the department begins outfitting its officers with body cameras. While nearly 90 percent of that video will not have to be redacted—the public has no expectation of privacy during interactions with law enforcement—footage with juveniles, witnesses, or victims with reason to wish for protection would be subject to redaction. A lawyer for the SPD also raised the point that any private information shared on camera would have to be redacted as well, including medical information.
Solutions from the hackathon came from varying sources. Richard Li, the program manager for Microsoft’s Azure Media Indexer Services, presented the Azure Cloud, which transcribes audio from the footage and makes the text searchable. Simon Winder of Impressive Machines demonstrated a semi-automated redaction service. Free and open source solutions were presented as well.
While no solution from the hackathon has been agreed upon, the Seattle PD have started on a pilot program with Evidence.com, a branch of Taser International that stores police video. The program does not allow for redaction. The police did express interest in a semi-automated redaction service overseen by a coalition of police departments and foundations.