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April 11, 2021

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Privacy concerns prompt suspension of Vancouver police camera registry

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published:

The Vancouver Police Department suspended a program weeks after its launch that asked city residents and business owners to register information about their surveillance systems to help with criminal investigations. But the department vows the project will return once it’s adjusted.

On Jan. 22, the police department announced the launch of its Community Camera Registration Program, which would allow officers conducting investigations to quickly identify cameras that may have captured criminal activity.

Online registration forms were made available the same day as the announcement. Those webpages have since been changed and display no information.

People who decided to participate in the program were asked to share details such as their location and the capabilities of their privately owned camera systems. They would be contacted by officers about video only if there was a crime near a camera registered with the program, according to the police department.

But the public expressed concerns about their personal information being released and how they could avoid that, department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said in an email.

“The response from registrants was not something we expected,” Kapp said.

People wanted more privacy than afforded by the Washington Public Records Act. Kapp said the city of Vancouver is committed to transparency and complying with the law.

Around the time of the program’s launch, defense attorney Angus Lee filed a public records request for all of the submitted registration forms.

“This information will be very helpful for defense lawyers as police often do not gather the video evidence, and this kind of evidence is helpful to the defense just as often as it is helpful to the police, if not more so,” Lee said in an email.

On Jan. 30, a police records specialist responded to Lee’s request, stating in an email that the police department was in the process of collecting the requested records. Two weeks later, the Vancouver Public Records Center informed Lee the registration program was being temporarily suspended.

Kapp said the suspension was not prompted by the attorney’s request. The decision was based on the public’s feedback, she said, and a discussion among the police department’s investigative units about what could be collected and used in a purposeful way.

“We decided to temporarily suspend the program so that we could modify the registration form in an effort to better protect the privacy of citizens while still collecting meaningful information for investigators,” Kapp said, adding that new programs sometimes require modification to make them successful.

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