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The Seattle programmer has built an online tool for sending large digital files to law enforcement agencies.
A once-prodigious public records requester turned Seattle Police Department employee says he's come up with a simple online tool that would enable people to submit video evidence, and other large digital files, to law enforcement agencies.
SendEvidence.org is designed to let people upload material such as surveillance video to an Amazon Web Services cloud server. If a police department were to opt into using the online service, they could choose to have the submitted files automatically emailed to specified officers.
The spartan-looking website went live in late August. It provides a basic form where people can upload their files and identify the agency where the evidence should be sent. Users can also fill out other basic information, such as the location of an incident, or a case number.
Tim Clemans, a computer programmer in Washington state, designed the tool in his free time.
Clemans gained attention last year when he filed public disclosure requests with nearly every police agency in the state, asking for all of their in-car, body camera and helicopter video footage. He said he did so to highlight policy gaps related to privacy and other issues.
Since then, he has worked with the Seattle Police Department on ways to automatically blur police videos so that people’s identities are obscured and to cut down on the need for public records requests by getting the footage posted on a YouTube channel.
The idea for the new project was sparked by a desire to solve what he sees as a straightforward but pressing problem for police departments. “I’ve taken video of actual crimes,” Clemans said during a phone interview in early September. “One was a DUI case, and because they didn’t have an easy way for me to get it to them, they decided they didn’t want it.”
While submitting video or photos to a local police agency might sound simple enough, Clemans said that there can be complications when file sizes are too big to email and when departments, or officers, don’t provide email addresses where people can submit digital material. Alternatively, sending out an officer to pick up photos or video can be time consuming.
At the time of the interview, Clemans said no police agencies had agreed to use the service. Evidence submitted for the Seattle Police Department through the website would automatically be forwarded to three email addresses there, he said. But Clemans added: “Whether or not they download it is a different story,” noting that “they don’t want to get onboard with this right now.”
“I have access to it, that’s the concern,” he said. “I don’t think any department in their right mind really wants to trust this to some 25-year-old guy they don’t know.”
So, for now, Clemans is looking to grab the attention of nonprofit groups, or people involved in law enforcement, with the hope of taking the online tool to the next level. “I’m trying to find a way to turn this into something that law enforcement will trust and use,” he explained. “What if the FBI, for example, were to set this up on their own servers?”
Clemans added: “I’d love to open a conversation about how do we make this very simple and yet important capability available across the country for as cheap as possible.”
Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and previously covered Seattle city government for Crosscut.com.