Feb 14, 2023 - News

Seattle police stop using AI system to analyze bodycam footage

Animated illustration of a binary code changing into an x symbol

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Seattle Police Department is ending its use of an artificial intelligence system to analyze body camera footage, after critics argued the technology could increase government surveillance.

What's happening: The AI system, developed by a company called Truleo, is designed to help spot troubling behavior by officers.

Yes, but: Given how much information body cameras collect about civilians – even those not suspected of crimes — the ACLU of Washington told Axios Seattle earlier this month that the technology raises significant privacy and civil liberties concerns.

The latest: According to a Friday article in GeekWire, recent media coverage — including by Axios — played a role in the department's decision to stop using the technology.

  • Loren Atherley, SPD’s director of performance analytics and research, confirmed in a statement to Axios Monday that the department had "discontinued the project, in light of reactions to the recent Axios and GeekWire articles."
  • Atherley said SPD's use of Truleo had only been on a trial basis.

Catch up quick: When police departments sign up with Truleo, audio recordings from all officers' body cameras are fed into its system daily for automatic transcription and analysis, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson reported.

  • The platform reviews the recordings in seconds using natural language processing, highlights good and bad interactions, and sends reports to supervisors.

What they're saying: Jennifer Lee, technology and liberty project manager with the ACLU of Washington, told Axios that her organization is pleased that SPD is discontinuing use of the AI technology.

  • She said SPD's test run with Truleo raised questions about "how police departments could potentially use the footage they collect and store for many purposes, including surveillance."
  • Truleo CEO Anthony Tassone wrote in a statement to Axios that the company's AI tech focuses on officers' voices and language to flag if they are engaging in unprofessional behavior. He said identifying those patterns early could potentially help prevent violent incidents, like the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police in January.

What we're watching: Whether other police departments that use Truleo — including about a dozen in California — also decide to drop the technology.

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