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Police launch blurry YouTube channel for bodycam footage

Technically Incorrect: Seattle police, taking part in a pilot program to test the use of bodycams, creates a YouTube channel to release the footage. But it's heavily redacted.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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It's a woman. I'm pretty sure of that. SPDBodyWordVideo/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Police officers filming all of their interactions by using bodycams seems like a positive thing.

It's potential evidence. It might make things clearer if there's a he-said, he-hit-me dispute.

However, what's to be done with all the footage? Oh, just put in on YouTube, you might think. Seattle's police department has chosen to do just that.

The department is in the throes of a pilot program, testing all the different aspects of using the technology. As part of it, a YouTube channel -- SPDBodyWornVideo -- was created to at least give some sense of what's been shot.

You might think, or even hope, that the channel would reveal something about modern policing. But, to comply with privacy laws, the audio has been removed and the video is blurred. So one has to work harder to focus on any action.

As the Seattle Times reports, the police department held a so-called hackathon, to see how software might be created to speed up the posting of videos while protecting the rights of citizens.

The software used was created by 24-year-old Timothy Clemans, who had been keen for the police to release video as soon as possible. The police describe him as "one of its volunteer force of hackers." It now takes half a day to redact four hours of footage, where once that would take much longer.

Seattle police say that they've been burning 7,000 DVDs a month to comply with public requests for video release. Using Clemans' software and the YouTube channel, the release might be made more efficiently.

The viewing experience isn't quite what it might be -- though for good reasons. It's as if the director of photography used so much Vaseline on the lens that soft focus has turned to melted focus.

Still, in one video shot on January 19, there's enough definition to see a man in a woolly hat being handcuffed and another man being frisked (video above).

With cell phones becoming ubiquitous, some people have adopted the habit of recording police officers during, for example, traffic stops. This is especially useful if the police officer accuses you of being a pot smoker just because you have frisbee golf equipment on your back seat.

Conversely, some police departments have begun releasing their footage after accusations of one kind or another. This brings with it extremely delicate issues. Recently, Arizona police released footage of what seemed like a simply domestic inquiry that turned into a police officer being shot dead.

At the time, the deputy police chief of Flagstaff, Walter Miller, said: "I would rather that the public didn't see that out of sheer respect for the officer and his family and the grieving officers here at the Flagstaff Police Department."

It's not obvious how this might be solved. The whole concept of transparency, as governments and corporations who have claimed to embrace it have proved, is rarely quite as clear as it seems.