Drones scrapped, but Seattle Police surveillance camera project continues; ‘borderline problematic,’ says BurgessFebruary 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm | In Seattle Police surveillance cameras, West Seattle news, West Seattle police | 49 Comments
(Click image for full zoomable PDF version of new map)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
While Mayor McGinn has just announced that Seattle Police‘s Homeland Security-funded drone program has been scrapped (see his statement here), the work continues on the 30-camera network first reported by WSB a week and a half ago.
And one of his challengers in this fall’s election describes the system as “borderline problematic.”
More on that shortly.
First – We’re continuing to research the new fixed cameras that could be in operation as soon as next month in West Seattle and other areas of the city. This week, we have a new, clearer map of the 30 cameras’ planned locations – 12 of them in the West Seattle vicinity. The new map makes it easier to see where the ones not already in place are planned; for example, comparing a labeled map with this one, you’ll note one location is the Admiral Way Viewpoint, by SW Olga. We checked the site – no camera, but the southeast pole has loops of cable; in our interview last Friday with SPD Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who as Special Operations Bureau commander is in charge of this, he said that “about 9″ of the 30 had been installed as of the time of our conversation.
As noted in our second report on January 31st, the $5 million grant that paid for the cameras was approved by the City Council in May of last year. A network of cameras was mentioned in passing during the briefing given pre-vote to the Public Safety, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee, but locations were not discussed, and it was described only as “port security,” with no mention that cameras would be installed in recreational/residential zones.
When we spoke with Assistant Chief McDonagh, he explained that a “steering committee” has yet to make the decisions about who will operate the cameras and which agencies will have access to their 24-hour video streams. He did say that in retrospect, he thought telling the commmunity in advance might not have been a bad idea; as we first reported on January 29th, the cameras were first noticed by WSB readers the preceding weekend, and we learned their purpose through two days of inquiring with various city agencies.
We have asked for comment from Mayor McGinn, and renewed the inquiry this afternoon following the no-drones announcement, but mayoral spokesperson Aaron Pickus e-mailed back, “We don’t have anything to add to what SPD has already discussed with you.”
Last night, we spoke with another mayoral candidate, Councilmember Tim Burgess – a former Seattle Police officer and former chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee – when he came to West Seattle to speak with the Southwest District Council.
“I think it’s borderline problematic,” Councilmember Burgess told us, saying that the original explanation of the cameras was that they were for port security and would be installed around Elliott Bay and port facilities, but now it’s been disclosed they have been installed “from Fauntleroy to Golden Gardens,” which he considers “not appropriate.”
He added that he thinks “the council should play a larger role here … maybe (it) should set stronger rules about the use of surveillance and technology that goes beyond what the original intent was.”
Assistant Chief McDonagh told us on Friday that he expected the Council would be briefed again; no date has yet been announced. There’s a target date of March 31st for activation of the camera system, but the aforementioned “steering committee” – whose membership list we have requested from SPD but not yet received – will make the final decision, he said.
ADDED 6:30 PM: Toward the end of The Stranger‘s coverage of the mayor’s no-drones decision today, the ACLU’s Doug Honig is quoted as saying they think the city needs to re-examine this camera system next.
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