Follow-up from our meeting on privacy and transparency

WSBWCN-logoThanks to those of you who took part in our very interesting meeting about privacy and transparency! We appreciated the opportunity to hear from Mary Perry, the new Director of Transparency and Privacy at SPD.

One of the reasons we invited her was to better understand why SPD felt they had to comply with the Block Watch-related Block Watch-related Public Disclosure Request last fall.

Delving back into that issue, that answer seems to hinge on this:  they view Block Watch Captains, and people who organize Night Out parties and notify the city of those events, as “volunteers,” and in the sense that the law applies to “employees or volunteers of a public agency,” it would apply to us.

I, (personally, not on behalf of our org), would argue that we are NOT Seattle Police Department or City volunteers, even though SPD and the City of Seattle may benefit from our activities. Many Block Captains have never even met with anyone from the City or SPD; others may have interacted briefly, but have no ongoing relationship.

SPD does not supervise BW Captains in this role, have requirements for “volunteering” in this role, or monitor how we perform (or fail to perform) in this role. Many who serve in the capacity of Block Watch Captains interact with their immediate neighbors only. As an individual Block Watch Captain or someone stepping up to plan a Night Out event, our often non-relationship with SPD is a subtle, but important, distinction.

Most importantly, I think there has to be “buy-in” from all parties, before there is a volunteer/agency relationship. Even those of us who have an ongoing relationship with SPD, do not necessarily feel that we are their “volunteers.”  The “volunteers” need to be aware that they are “volunteering,” as opposed to just organizing their neighbors into a Block Watch group, and perhaps inviting one of the Crime Prevention Coordinators to come and speak to the new group when it is initially forming.

When I became an individual Block Watch Captain, there was no indication that I was “volunteering” beyond my own neighborhood. I only took on a leadership role in my neighborhood (to plan Night Out events, show up with a Potluck dish, and communicate to our neighbors about safety issues when they arose). I inherited the role from a previous Block Watch Captain.

Other neighbors have taken on similar leadership roles, that also do not necessarily make them City volunteers. For example, some neighborhood parents lead children on a “walking school bus” to the nearby elementary school each day. It doesn’t necessarily make them volunteers of Seattle Public Schools, as it may be only their own children and their immediate neighbors/friends that are involved.

I also see similarities for those of us who lead localized emergency preparedness efforts in our neighborhoods. We may be on the City’s list of those who have taken preparedness classes. We may have attended meetings or events that they’ve organized. They may have us on their notification list. Those things do not necessarily mean that we have knowingly and voluntarily “volunteered” with the Office of Emergency Management.

These are just some of my personal thoughts on the Block Watch and Night Out PDR – the discussion at the meeting didn’t touch on all of them, and also included other interesting viewpoints from meeting participants.

Also, there were MANY other interesting points of discussion at our meeting this month – among them, discussion about privacy and transparency as it relates to video/audio from body cams and dashboard cams, as well as the new AlertSeattle system which ties in to Enhanced 9-1-1.

There are so many things to consider that relate to transparency and privacy – especially as technology evolves. This meeting was a great step in learning more about this issue!

You can find coverage of our meeting from the West Seattle Blog here.


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