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The Body Cam Hacker Who Schooled the Police 161

New submitter Cuillere writes: In the fall of 2014, a hacker demanded the Seattle Police Department release all of their body and dash cam video footage, prompting chaos within the institution. Although it was a legal request per Washington state's disclosure laws, Seattle's PD wasn't prepared to handle the repercussions of divulging such sensitive material — and so much of it. The request involved 360 TB of data spread across 1.6 million recordings over 6 years. All recordings had to be manually reviewed and redacted to cut out "children, medical or mental health incidents, confidential informants, or victims or bystanders who did not want to be recorded," so fulfilling the request was simply not within the department's capabilities. Thus, they took a different strategy: they hired the hacker and put him to work on developing an automated redaction system. "Their vision is of an officer simply docking her body cam at the end of a shift. The footage would then be automatically uploaded to storage, either locally or in the cloud, over-redacted for privacy and posted online for everyone to see within a day."
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The Body Cam Hacker Who Schooled the Police

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  • Love it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:23PM (#49752619)

    Be part of the solution - not part of the problem.

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      If not honoring or stalling indefinitely FOIA requests is one extreme, requesting every last bit of recoding is the other.

      The law should be amended to require specific and limited dates, specific officers, and that it be pertinent to an official incident.

      • Re:Love it (Score:5, Insightful)

        by preaction ( 1526109 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:46PM (#49752835)

        No. They are working to serve the public. They should be prepared to get a bulk request for all data they have everywhere. Putting limitations on it will first clog up the courts, since a judge will have to decide whether it meets the law's requirements, which then involves lawyers. Then it will be used to cover up real crimes under the auspices of "not an official incident".

        • Re:Love it (Score:5, Interesting)

          by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @02:08PM (#49753551)

          I wouldn't call being specific about what you want a "limitation".

          Requesting it all is a stupid stunt.

          • Re:Love it (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @02:24PM (#49753709) Journal

            Or more often, a fishing expedition.

          • by GNious ( 953874 )

            in this particular case, it would seem to be a not-so-stupid stunt... but still a stunt.

          • Specifying what I want leaves it open for interpretation (by whom?). Or, worse, reveals what I am actually looking for (making a targeted coverup easy). Allowing police the ability to make judgement calls as to what to give when an FOIA request comes in, or outright deny a request that they can consider unreasonable, is no safety against police misconduct, which is the entire point this exists.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Warrants in the US require a specific place, person and item to be seized to be listed. Asking the same of a citizen making FOIA requests is not unreasonable, and just as with the requirements for a warrant, this is a check against abuse.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by hawguy ( 1600213 )

        If not honoring or stalling indefinitely FOIA requests is one extreme, requesting every last bit of recoding is the other.

        The law should be amended to require specific and limited dates, specific officers, and that it be pertinent to an official incident.

        So a little police oversight through FOIA is fine, but too much oversight is too much, because police need to be able to get away with abuse at least part of the time?

        • by sycodon ( 149926 )

          You would probably get a faster response when you provide dates, badges, etc.

          Just a sweeping request of everything is a stupid stunt and of no benefit at all. Unless you really believe he is going to view all six years worth of data from hundreds of officers.

          • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

            You would probably get a faster response when you provide dates, badges, etc.

            Just a sweeping request of everything is a stupid stunt and of no benefit at all. Unless you really believe he is going to view all six years worth of data from hundreds of officers.

            The problem is that not all abuse is reported so you don't always have dates, badges, etc.

            If you can make a sweeping request and enlist volunteers (or even computer algorithms) to look for abuse, you may uncover actionable patterns that can be followed up by specific FOIA requests for original footage.

            • by sycodon ( 149926 )

              So...a fishing expedition.

              • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

                So...a fishing expedition.

                Yes, or citizen oversight of those that we're paying to protect us.

        • by Copid ( 137416 )
          The FOIA system is an important thing. But capacity for any sort of data retrieval is limited. People who clog it up for the lulz aren't serving freedom of information or providing oversight. They're making it harder to get legitimate requests filled.
      • Re:Love it (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:04PM (#49753029)

        If they want the data, they have to deal with the consequences.

        The alternative is NOT collecting it and storing it indefinitely. Fine by me, too.

    • Nope, look at the resulting images. It has been blurred to the point of uselessness. It has taken away the whole point of the body camera in the first place. It is the equivalent of having the officers smear Crisco on the lense.

      • Re:Love it (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:49PM (#49753385)

        You're missing the point. Manually redacted footage will still be available via FOIA request, and unredacted footage will still be available in court. These over-redacted clips are designed specifically so that they can be publicly posting to the 'net at the end of each day, without anyone ever having to make a FOIA request at all. And they're not blurred to the point of uselessness; they're blurred to the point where you can't see details, but you can see when something is happening that warrants further attention.

        The idea is that by posting them immediately, it will increase transparency by giving the public a means to sift through recent footage and find incidents that may be of interest, without compromising the privacy of the individuals involved. By enabling the public to more or less go on fishing expeditions on their own time without costing the police any extra time or effort, it benefits the public since they are more capable of finding incidents, and it benefits the police since the FOIA requests they'll be dealing with (they claim that a minute of footage takes an hour to redact on average) will hopefully be more narrow in scope, since the requestors would have been able to sift out the majority of the irrelevant footage in advance. The end result is more capability to discover unreported incidents, more awareness of what's actually going on, less time spent manually redacting irrelevant footage, and a greater capacity for handling FOIA requests.

        It's a win-win, and it's by no means useless. It actually strikes a great balance between protecting the privacy of those being filmed and making the body cam footage readily available so that the public can better oversee the police.

      • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

        I wonder why they didn't just downscale the resolution and let the video player handle blurring during upscaling.

        Also, if it's a regular blur, it's possible to restore quite a bit of detail using deconvolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconvolution).

    • Re:Love it (Score:5, Funny)

      by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:04PM (#49753031) Homepage Journal

      Be part of the solution - not part of the problem.

      No, be part of the precipitate.

    • No, he's not.

      His "solution" is to blur everything, yes literally *everything*. The entire video is blurred so that you can't make out faces, which makes sense, but you also can't make out guns, weapons, street signs, small movements of hands, clothing, etc. Depending on the light, you often can't even tell the difference between a police officer and a trash can. It's worthless for any practical purpose.

      This guy literally got a job to do nothing other than to copy data from a camera to a server and to pos
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:25PM (#49752633) Journal

    Man requests video footage via FOIA, earns job categorizing and sanitizing video footage to allow release to public in compliance with both FOIA and privacy laws. System ends up better off and expects to work in a transparent manner.

    Move along...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Earns job, wow, what a nation of slaves we've become.
    • Nope. His system just applies a blur filter to the video and strips the audio. He hasn't done anything that a very small script couldn't have done. In fact, most programs commercially available for body cams (usually used by private security in malls and such to avoid lawsuits) have an option to do exactly that already. This guy is getting paid for doing zero useful work.
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:26PM (#49752635)

    give me all of your money!
    OK, here is a job counting it

  • by barlevg ( 2111272 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:27PM (#49752655)
    Are we just talking about blurring faces?
  • Please, no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger&gmail,com> on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:28PM (#49752661)

    I am 100% for body cameras on all police. But when that footage goes public, it becomes a possible intrusion into my civil liberties. What if I get arrested on a bogus child sex abuse charge? Facebook provides a good model of what will happen. The perp goes up on a police blotter for mug shots, it goes viral, and even after he is cleared, FB stalkers turn into real life stalkers, pulling up into the driveway in the dead of night and flashing their brights into the living room, or publicly commenting that if they see them on the street, they're as good as dead. Such a thing happened to a friend of mine, and this bullshit mob justice has to stop.

    The only way to protect the rights of the accused is to hide police-public interactions behind an wall of secrecy. Want body cam footage? Or a mug shot? Or an arrest history? Get a subpoena, and it better be relevant.

    • Re:Please, no. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:31PM (#49752691)
      As opposed to currently where your name, address, and age go onto the police blotter in the local newspaper?
      • by halivar ( 535827 )

        I don't like that, either.

      • "Local newspaper"? What is that, some kind of newfangled startup concept?
      • Re:Please, no. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:26PM (#49753225) Journal

        Now it won't just be arrests, though, but any interaction with police.

        We just see the way this goes. Some tiny little thing gets taken out of context and posted online and people go fucking rabid, for and against.

        There was a story a few weeks ago from Australia (just as easily anywhere in the US, though) about a guy who was "creep shamed" as a pedo when he was really just taking a selfie with Darth Vader [sophos.com] as a joke to send to his kids. tl;dr mom sees guy take pic near her kids, flips, takes pic of him, posts online, 20k + views, death threats, cops, psychological trauma, etc etc.

        And then of course there was a backlash against her (I'm not sure if her identity was revealed) with all the anti-moral panickers having a moral panic about moral panics. As terrible a mistake as she made, she doesn't deserve death threats either. If you think she does, congratulations on being part of the problem.

        I just wonder how good the redaction can be that you can't match somebody up. It's not to hard to imagine the same kind of scenario playing out. Guy's at the park with his kids, kids are out of sight, cop asks the guy what he's doing here "Oh I'm here for the kids." "Hmmm...all right then..." Internet Super Hero catches sight of this, snaps a pic, finds the footage on the police website later "EVERYBODY WATCH OUT FOR THIS PEDO HE 'GOES TO THE PARK FOR THE KIDS!!!!'" Face is blurred and speech is altered, but it's clearly the same guy. Time/place/clothing.

        Then of course there's all the other interactions with police where they're not talking to a suspect. What about interviewing victims? If somebody calls the cops on an abusive spouse do they now have to worry that their dirty laundry is going to be on the internet for everybody to see? How hard will it be to match up victims based on...who knows...addresses, landscape features, google street view data.

        Same with the mentally ill. Bipolar family member having a manic episode and slipping into psychosis and you need help to get them to the hospital? Gotta think twice about making that call now. And yes, yes, I know there have been a few instances of cops hurting or killing a mentally ill person when their family called for help, but it's very rare compared to the number of times they're the only way to get a suicidal or psychotic person to the hospital for treatment. But now you're adding definite privacy concerns to rare brutality concerns.

        Even if they can't identify you, you know some asshole is going to turn this into a game. "Post the funniest/most fucked up police footage." When I was younger and stupider I played a game with people on a forum once where you went to the sexual predator watchdog website where you could put in an address and it would show you the registered sex offenders on a map and you'd find the creepiest looking mugshots/conviction list near you and try to outdo the other people playing the game. I feel pretty ashamed of that now. But, well, it's going to happen.

        I'm all for body cams, but man, I just think there's got to be a better way to oversee the program to protect people who have interactions with police than publishing the videos for everybody to see. Some kind of civilian oversight board that approves requests. 99/100, a time you're interacting with police is not a good day in your life. You're either a victim or a suspect, and you don't deserve to have one of the worst days of you life broadcast, particularly in these hyper-sensitive days of internet mob moral justice.

    • Re:Please, no. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:51PM (#49752893)

      The Swiss have a good solution to this problem -- privacy laws, guaranteed in their constitution. It's illegal to report on things like arrests or legal proceedings until after such proceedings are concluded. Their privacy laws are most famous for money laundering, but they're important and the rest of the world should adopt them too. There are better way to collect tax than spying on everyone's bank balances anyway.

    • They address your concern in the article (and even in the summary) by using over-redaction as standard practice. What that means is that when the video first comes in, they pass it through a set of filters that intentionally redacts far more than is necessary, that way they can provide as much assurance as possible that the identifying information is gone. At the same time though, it hopefully leaves enough to let someone recognize situations that may call for more attention.

      An early version of their system [youtube.com]

    • Want body cam footage? Or a mug shot? Or an arrest history? Get a subpoena, and it better be relevant.

      No, don't make it that complicated.

      At the very least, allow me (or my lawyer, or my surviving family members) to request footage where I am the one being video-recorded. This should actually be easy to initially automate as well (if the officer actually took down my details, or my license plate number, to run a check on it). The time of the lookup should give us the identity of the police officer (or possibly partnering police officer) who did the lookup. From there allow me to make a follow-up request in c

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What about the innocent people being filmed by the police, and by innocent I mean those who have not yet been proven guilty? Or does Seattle also have some magical hacker system that can provide due process and justice within the same 24 hour period?

    • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:31PM (#49752685)
      Their names show up in the police blotter anyway. You are not anonymous until proven guilty.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by halivar ( 535827 )

        You are not anonymous until proven guilty.

        No one should be subject to a trial of public opinion, period.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          > No one should be subject to a trial of public opinion, period.

          Nobody should get infirm, nobody should suffer from addiction, nobody should starve, blah blah blah. It's drivel.
          At some point, you have to realize that we are not going to have a utopian fantasy.
          Everyone is subject to a trial by public opinion, at some level. Deal with reality.

          • by halivar ( 535827 )

            > No one should be subject to a trial of public opinion, period.

            Nobody should get infirm, nobody should suffer from addiction, nobody should starve, blah blah blah. It's drivel.

            The comparison is disingenuous. Those things aren't anything alike, and you know it. The behavior of government actors is neither inevitable nor incurable; all you have to do is change the regs.

        • by edjs ( 1043612 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:37PM (#49753303)

          No one should be subject to a trial of public opinion, period.

          No one should be subject to secret arrest and detention either. It's unfortunate that we rush to judgement, but part of the reason to publish arrests is to protect those arrested.

    • What about the innocent people being filmed by the police, and by innocent I mean those who have not yet been proven guilty? Or does Seattle also have some magical hacker system that can provide due process and justice within the same 24 hour period?

      The main purpose of the law is to ensure that everyone is guilty of something.

  • by Chris Katko ( 2923353 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:33PM (#49752709)
    I'm extremely surprised to hear that a police department--when faced with legal requests from an unimportant regular joe--actually went out of their way to implement an elegant system to an issue instead of dragging their feet. None of us would have been surprised to see a police department throw a wrench into the system.

    I'm honestly considering writing them a letter thanking them for their exemplary compliance. Good cops need to know we support them.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It might have more to do with the whole Dept being under the watchful eye of the DOJ and not the wonderful Seattle PD. You should google that dept before feeling the need to thank them for anything.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:56PM (#49752945)

      Seattleite here. Please note that SPD is under federal oversight and this is good progress but there's a bigger story/problems with SPD (as I'd guess with many PDs).

      I was also present when the hacker in question got arrested in the initial incident, was the final Urban Golf event (bar crawl hitting foam golf balls with real golf clubs through the city, tended to get a bit out of hand) in Seattle. I and about 10 other people gave up our IDs, he did not and went to jail.

      Quote of the evening from the dickish officer in charge: "If I see one more person dressed in Argyle tonight, they're going to jail."

      -S

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Quote of the evening from the dickish officer in charge: "If I see one more person dressed in Argyle tonight, they're going to jail."

        So that's how the grunge phase ended in Seattle. You got yourselves a real fashion police!

    • by garcia ( 6573 )

      In Minnesota, the public sector is mandated by statute to release information to the public and be setup in a way which facilitates this action:

      https://www.revisor.mn.gov/sta... [mn.gov]

      13.03 ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT DATA.
      Subdivision 1.Public data. All government data collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by a government entity shall be public unless classified by statute, or temporary classification pursuant to section 13.06, or federal law, as nonpublic or protected nonpublic, or with respect to da

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @12:43PM (#49752817) Homepage

    The footage would then be automatically uploaded to storage, either locally or in the cloud, over-redacted for privacy and posted online for everyone to see within a day.

    For court purposes, there can't be any redaction.

    Because as soon as you start snipping out bits, you lose context and some of what actually happened.

    The full video must be available for scrutiny ... or you'll get the 5 seconds which supports the police version of events, or which has been edited to alter the sequence of events.

    Part of the reason people are starting to insist on body cameras is we don't trust the police. Because increasingly the police are not trustworthy, and don't know or care what the law says.

    Which means all of this raw video should be held in escrow where the police have no ability to alter or delete it.

    If the police hold it, and have the power to edit it ... suddenly it becomes a less trustworthy record.

    So when the police start claiming they need to redact it, they better have the ability to provide the un-redacted version for court proceedings.

    • by Straif ( 172656 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:16PM (#49753137) Homepage

      If you read the article you'd see that there are 3 possible versions of police video. #1 always exists, #2 will exist in most cases (when fully implemented) and #3 is only created upon request.

      1) The raw video which is stored on DVD and available for any court proceedings. This version is not altered in any way.

      2) The over-redacted version which this post is about. This version is intentionally altered to try and remove any identifying features from the subjects, including suspects and also filters out videos involving specific crimes (rape or involving kids). This video is not used for any legal proceedings; it's primary purpose is to allow interested parties to review police interactions with the public.

      3) Videos legally requested under disclosure laws. These are manually redacted to remove the minimum required by law to protect peoples privacy. Depending on the subjects this would generally look like the videos you see on COPS where the subjects are clearly visible but some bystanders are blurred.

      The idea is that by providing the second type of videos they can reduce FOIA or similar legal requests because in most cases seeing exactly who was involved is much less important as seeing what was done to and by each person involved in the incident. Before the existence of the over-redacted versions every request to view police body cams resulted in the the need to create a manually redacted version and this took up to 1 hour/minute to process.

    • They're basically proposing a three-tier system for their videos:
      1) Over-redacted videos that have been programmatically stripped of identifiable details are posted for public viewing at the end of each day.

      2) Manually redacted videos with more details included are available via FOIA requests, just as they always have.

      3) Unredacted videos are available via court order.

      Manually redacting videos is an extraordinarily expensive process (1 hour per minute of footage, according to the article), so their hope is

    • Part of the reason people are starting to insist on body cameras is we don't trust the police. Because increasingly the police are not trustworthy, and don't know or care what the law says.

      Well, mostly. I've been arguing with people for years on this. For so long, many people had this default notion of the police as the good guys. This is very much the default in traffic court. If the police say you did it and you say you didn't, you're guilty. People need to understand that putting on a badge doesn't

    • The point you're making was a main plot point within The Running Man [imdb.com].

      A police man was accused and convicted for murder based on edited police footage.

      Talk about SciFi representing the future; we're starting to see/talk-through ideas suggested almost 30 years ago (that movie was released in 1987!).

  • BOOM Ima hacker now!

  • what the... (Score:2, Insightful)

    What kind of mentally deficient person wrote that summary? A programmer or professional video editor would be the one hired to do that job, not a hacker. Did they lose the password to the video system? Otherwise he's not a hacker.
    • Re:what the... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Straif ( 172656 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:29PM (#49753245) Homepage

      He was the winning entry in the SPD's 'hackathon' to produce a video redaction system to meet their needs (his request for video was also the main reason for having the hackathon in the first place buts that's not important).

      He pretty much meets the definition of hobbyist hacker from Wikipedia or the #3 definition of hacker from webster "an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer".

    • 'Hacker' doesn't always mean 'someone who breaks into a computer.'
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Old meaning hacker, not new meaning hacker. We call that a refreshing change. So correctly he's a hacker. U been learn'd.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Hacker !== to your silly notions

  • They are running a filter on the video footage that reduces to video equivalent of line art so that details such as facial features, distinguishing marks, license plates, etc. are no longer visible. Audio continues to be a problem but they are exploring various solutions. Pretty clever solution actually. I assume for evidentiary footage an unmanipulated version is being kept as well. This is very similar to a video library where a "preview" copy is rendered at a low resolution to save space/bandwidth and ac
  • by yayoubetcha ( 893774 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:01PM (#49752991)

    The over-redaction with immediate posting (24 hours+-) is a great idea. Of course, location info, and other meta data is needed with the video too. Overall this is a great idea.

    Most of the police body cam videos would be just boring moments watching cops eating donuts, watching porn on their laptops, or napping, but 1% of the time, you could see some "action" of interest. This method would provide the public with some added trust. If there is a controversial segment, the source video could enable audio, and be hand-redacted, where needed, and posted again.

    Broad strokes with fast posts are a good idea.

  • by Ravaldy ( 2621787 ) on Friday May 22, 2015 @01:09PM (#49753083)

    This is another case of people wanting to make police so accountable they are willing to compromise their own privacy and spend millions of dollars country wide doing it.

    Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't it enough to be able to get specific recordings on demand? I mean, if a cop kills someone the video of the incident is required, not the other 5 TB recorded that day.

    This data should only need to be pulled out where abuse is suspected or complaints are made about an officer's behavior (because they know it can be proved via the body cam).

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Why? The police already keeps it (obviously) so your privacy is already lost. I'd rather have it be open to the public what exactly is being stored than kept secret forever. The other edge of the sword is that when police conveniently 'lose' their footage, it can now be proven otherwise, if it's kept secret, not so much.

      • he other edge of the sword is that when police conveniently 'lose' their footage, it can now be proven otherwise, if it's kept secret, not so much.

        Which is why the storage should be handled by a 3rd party with no direct ties to the police. There's plenty of private businesses that would be more than happy to offer these services.

        The police already keeps it (obviously) so your privacy is already lost. I'd rather have it be open to the public what exactly is being stored than kept secret forever

        What do we gain from doing that? All it does it provide an opportunity for poor interpretation which results in a need to explain which equals more paperwork which equals more tax dollars wasted. The fact is that if a complaint arises you can obtain proof through the body cam. If there's no complaint there's no need to access

  • This is terrible.

    Just how are body cams supposed to do their job of uncovering and providing evidence of police misconduct if the footage can be redacted, automatically or otherwise? These people are public servants who have a history... an especially ugly and heinous history in the last year or so... of misconduct on the job and dodging accountability for said misconduct. I don't have any particular expectation of privacy from my employer during the performance of my job. Why should they?

  • ...where he posted a video where a woman who had been arrested over a DWI had her social security and home address read aloud at the station. He then laughed about it and defended his actions until we finally got the mods to awaken and remove the video. He's a real piece of work.
  • Well now we have another use for that NSA storage facility =)

  • Come on, a police department taking something that could cost them millions, plus bad media and turning into something good? Heads will have to roll for this decision.
  • by koan ( 80826 )

    Feds + Hacker/Cracker = Fracker.

    Remember when there was a difference between hacker and cracker?

  • Part of the problem is this:

    Q. How long are the videos kept?

    A: Current policy is to indefinitely keep video recordings dealing with crimes. The Seattle Police Department is working with Department of Justice monitor Merrick Bobb to finalize policies for the body-worn cameras.

    Are they deleting videos that DON'T deal with crimes after a set period? And why in God's name are they kept indefinitely? Anything the DA doesn't elect to prosecute should be deleted fairly quickly. Anything that hints at police misconduct or a criminal charge against an office is kept for the duration of the State Statute of Limitations.

  • Amending public records laws to require individuals to grant permission to release personal information prior to releasing records? And go allow charging for material, if the law doesn't already, so fishing expeditions would be to expensive.

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