Articles

Seattle Police Tech Officer Quits, Criticizes Department

Although Tim Clemons was only at the Seattle Police Department for about 6 months, he grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of willingness to adopt new technology.

by Jennifer Sullivan, The Seattle Times / October 30, 2015

(TNS) -- The adage “if you can’t beat them, join them” didn’t work out so well for a computer programmer who was hired by Seattle police after inundating the department with a mountain of public-records requests.

So Timothy Clemans is back to his old ways.

Clemans texted his resignation to department Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers on Thursday morning, after what he describes as intense personality conflicts and a failure by the department to embrace technology.

 

“Basically, it all went to hell,” said Clemans, describing his relationship with the department. “The problem is [the department] wants to use technology, but it wants to have vendors who build these large systems that cost a lot of money and are hard to implement. I want things to go fast and I’ve been working with people who realize government moves slowly.”

Within hours of his resignation, Clemans, 25, filed more than 200 public-disclosure requests for information from the department. Among the things he’s looking for are audio and video images from patrol-car cameras as well as 911 center recordings.

He said he plans to put redacted images and recordings, as well as certain police documents, on a website.

“I want the public to get more involved,” Clemans said. “When the public gets involved, a lot of things happen and things can happen quickly.”

Clemans owed his short-lived job with Seattle police to a similar flurry of public-disclosure requests in 2014, when he sought details on every 911 dispatch on which officers were sent; all the written reports they produced; and dash-cam videos and video collected from the department’s pilot body-camera program. Under state public-disclosure law, the department was required to fulfill Clemans’ requests.

But he dropped his efforts after Wagers agreed to meet with him. That meeting led to a job with Seattle police in May as a contract employee to help the department create software that would allow it to redact sensitive images from police-captured videos.

Before Clemans was hired, releasing police video required department employees to go through video, frame by frame, to redact sensitive images — an extremely labor-intensive process. While working with police, Clemans helped develop automated software to expedite the video-redaction process, said agency spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

In September, he was given an award by the Washington Coalition for Open Government for his work creating the redaction software.

Whitcomb said Thursday that the department is mostly unaffected by Clemans’ new deluge of public-disclosure requests.

“This is who Tim is. This is what he does. He is very interested in police information,” Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb acknowledged that fulfilling Clemans’ requests was “going to be labor-intensive,” even with the new software.

 

“But the other way to look at it is this already is a very busy job. Everyone is already operating from a lot of requests. He’s not going to break the system; he’s going to make it churn a little more slowly,” he said.

Clemans said during his time with police he learned “there is a lot of good that goes on” in the department. But, he adds, there needs to be a more careful analysis of how the department is using technology.

©2015 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.