Seattle Police Department busted using AI software to 'spy' on officers

Seattle Police Office Guild President described the subterfuge as "the biggest egregious thing that I've seen in terms of violating trust from an employer to an employee.”

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
The command staff of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) was busted using artificial intelligence (AI) software to spy on its officers and the public without their knowledge.

The department has been using Truleo’s software since 2021. The Chicago-based startup company told GeekWire that the software was first developed to analyze phone calls and text messages between Wall Street bankers.

The software was being used by the department to analyze body camera footage from officers in an attempt to identify problematic policing by analyzing verbiage and tone.

Instead of using the footage and software to respond to complaints, the department had taken it upon itself to proactively review the body cam footage without informing the officers or the public, according to Seattle Police officer Guild President Mike Solan.

After the officers’ union found out about the software, the department stopped the practice.

Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan told The Ari Hoffman Show, “When you're in uniform, you have to inform the community member that, ‘Hey, you're being audio and video recorded,’ and that's to follow policy.” 

He added that the third party software “..would flag, in their view, things that would eventually rate the officer's professionalism, such as their inflection of their voice, whether or not that they were sarcastic, what type of words they used,” and that the use of the technology may have violated their labor agreement.

He described the subterfuge as “..the biggest egregious thing that I've seen in terms of violating trust from an employer to an employee.”

Solan acknowledged that the AI has a bias based on whoever programed it. “It's to the point where I've never seen the level of frustration from the current people that still work for this agency in my 23 years of just being an employee here." 

Over 540 officers, a third of the force has left the department since 2020 when the Seattle City Council began advocating to defund the police and despite the massive staffing shortage, the council continues to demonize its own officers.

Solan said that once he discovered the AI was being used, he confronted SPD chief Adrian Diaz and “the department immediately terminated the contract with the third party.”

"We have no problem with sitting down at the table and bargaining accountability,” Solan continued. “We do that all the time… we're the most accountable agency in the United States of America. We have no problem with new software, new training. All we're asking is just let us know about it and we can work through the details.”

Solan also acknowledge that the department could have worked with the union and showed them the backend but instead when they got caught, they terminated the contract and that implied guilt.
“They'll eventually spin it as if “Here comes the union again, trying to prevent accountability,” and that couldn't be further from the truth.”

Hoffman asked if the software analyzed the driver. "I've been pulled over before. I am sometimes in a very, very bad mood… So for example, let's say there's a belligerent driver or belligerent suspect, and then you guys have to use force, ss that a strike against you when you're yelling at the guy to get on the ground?”

Solan responded, “I think besides the department spying on their officers, to your point, what does this do about analyzing the community members' words? Where is their First Amendment protections? How do you delineate between the officer and the person that in the public that you're interacting with? And this is a major problem.”

“We can have a conversation all day long about officer accountability and how this particular situation impacts an officer, but more importantly, on a basic civil rights issue. How does it impact the broad conversation about public interaction with government officials?”

Solan said the union was told that the “data has been erased.”

“The problem is they've been collecting data for six months without us knowing.”

“That to me tells me that we're the test case and they're using our officers as their testing point to then launch this thing nationwide,” he added. Truleo confirmed to GeekWire that Seattle is an “anchor customer” for the software

“If you look at the board of directors on that third party company, they're all ex-police chiefs. So looking at it more broadly, it just seems to be like a payday for ex-police chiefs who are looking to ride the accountability train all the way to their bank account.”

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