Rantz: Cops livid after Seattle Police Department ‘spied’ on them with AI

Feb 17, 2023, 2:20 PM
Seattle Police (Photo courtesy of The Jason Rantz Show)
(Photo courtesy of The Jason Rantz Show)

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) was using artificial intelligence software to “spy” on its officers and members of the public. When the union found out, its president said the department stopped using the software.

Truleo provides the software. It analyzes body cam footage to see if it can identify, in this case, problematic policing by analyzing, in part, words and tone. The department, according to the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild, was proactively reviewing body cam footage instead of using it to respond to specific complaints. But SPOG President Mike Solan says officers were never informed.

“The issue is they didn’t let the officers know that they were doing this behind their backs,” Solan told the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Solan said once he learned about the AI being used, he was “irate” and confronted SPD chief Adrian Diaz. He said Diaz acknowledged what they were using the AI for, defending it as developing data that could be used for better community relations. The data could theoretically be used to help develop better training by analyzing more real-world scenarios officers experience on the job.

“The officers feel as if they were spied on. And this is probably one of the biggest significant issues ever to plague this agency in terms of how employees are treated. And in fact, the department has broken the trust of the officers,” Solan explained.

SPD refuses to answer most questions

An SPD spokesperson confirmed the agency “entered a technology demonstration project and decided it had sufficient promise to attempt a limited pilot, to validate functionality.” The department discontinued its use, the spokesperson says, after hearing from privacy rights advocates who noted the AI reviews civilian footage, too. The AI can’t identify sarcasm, nor does it understand the full context of interactions, rendering the analysis useless.

Solan, however, said the department ended its use only after he complained as head of the union. The use of technology may have violated their labor agreement.

SPD refused to answer specific questions about the use of the software, including if its been used to disciplined officers. A spokesperson also wouldn’t explain what parameters were used to determine whether or not the AI should flag a video as problematic. Likewise, the mayor’s office would not answer any questions, including how much they knew about the software used to spy on officers and the public.

“This was probably the biggest issue that I’ve ever dealt with in my career in terms of the employer violating employee trust,” Solan noted. “And this could significantly impact our wishes to retain our current workforce.”

The SPD is dealing with a staffing shortage thanks to the Seattle City Council pushing to defund the department, while labeling officers racist killers. Between 2020 and 2022, the department lost a third of its police force with 525 officer separations. In January 2023, the department lost another 12 officers. After the first week of February, total separations this year went up to 15.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast. Follow @JasonRantz on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: Cops livid after Seattle Police Department ‘spied’ on them with AI