- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - The city of Seattle is paying more than $30,000 to settle a lawsuit over its refusal to release the location data of police cars in response to a public records request.

Open-government activist Phil Mocek and an organization he co-founded, the Center for Open Policing, requested the GPS data in 2013, saying it could show whether cruisers are fairly distributed across the city. The Seattle Police Department refused, saying that it would have required complicated computer programming to turn over the data.

Mocek said the department could very easily copy the plain text files, and he sued last year.

“This data belongs to the public,” Mocek’s complaint said. “The citizenry deserves to know where the patrol cars go, how frequently, where they are used, and how often.”

In a settlement dated Oct. 1, the city agreed to provide the data subject to certain redactions - including data revealing the home addresses of officers or possibly the locations of domestic violence shelters. The city is paying nearly $18,000 to Mocek and the Center for Open Policing, plus more than $12,000 for legal fees and costs.

City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a written statement that it will cost about $45,000 to properly redact the data, which otherwise “can be linked with SPD incident reports to reveal highly-sensitive locations including domestic violence shelters, the residences of sexual assault victims, child victims, and victims and witnesses of other crimes who have requested non-disclosure or whose safety may be at risk, as well as officers’ residences, tactical response deployments, etc.”

The case illustrates the dilemma agencies face as they use electronic systems that generate massive amounts of data, Holmes said. Concerns about the difficulty of redacting video from body-worn cameras have hindered police departments from adopting the cameras, he said.

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