(TOPLINE: Public discussion promised – starting with Alki Community Council board meeting Thursday night; scroll to end of story)
2:05 PM: We’re at City Hall for the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee briefing/discussion on the Seattle Police surveillance-camera/”wireless mesh” network first brought to light here three weeks ago (archived coverage here). In advance of the meeting, which is about to begin, two documents were added to the agenda today, one including more background detail on the federal-grant-funded $5 million project. Here’s here’s the background document; here’s the PowerPoint intended to illustrate a few of its points. The meeting is just getting under way. You can watch live here – or here:
(Editor’s note: The archived video from the meeting is now embedded above)
First – public comment. First up: A woman who says she wants to share “lessons we have learned” using security cameras in the International District. She says that the cameras installed there (part of a private network) have helped bolster safety and security in the area and provided evidence that will stand up in court. She says they only show the street in front of whatever building they’re installed at. The second speaker says she is a former Alki resident now living on Magnolia, and she is concerned about terrorist attacks via water. She is in favor of 24/7 surveillance and thinks “it’s a miracle” there hasn’t been a terrorist attack yet.
Third speaker from Stand Up America says that he is concerned about terrorists – “the terrorists sitting at (the council) table.” He accuses the government of terrorism and “ridiculous behavior.” He adds, basically shouting, “You guys are eroding our civil rights … don’t stand against the people, stand up for the people.” Councilmember Harrell has accused him of a “showboating tactic” after the speaker called him “a criminal.” Fourth speaker also has a red “Stand Up America” sign and identifies himself as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who also is concerned about government oppression.
Fifth speaker – Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the ACLU, which has already asked the city to reconsider these cameras, and makes it clear their concern is government surveillance – “government keeping track of the movements of individuals throughout our city.” She says the recent drone controversy was evidence that people in Seattle are not happy about having surveillance “thrust on them.” She refers to the fact that a city official (as noted in our early coverage) has been quoted as saying this is a potential step toward a citywide camera network, not just focused on waterways. Sixth speaker is Will Washington, who identifies himself as a Beach Drive resident. “This is a big issue for us,” he says, referring to conversations with neighbors in the Constellation Park area, where one of the cameras is installed. He says everyone is bothered by “the fact this was never brought to our attention … we never had a discussion about this.” He says the sentiment is that it’s a symptom of a growing “police state.” Seventh speaker says she is concerned about “be(ing) fearful of who I’m being watched by” as she is out walking her dog on Alki. She says she speaks for a friend who couldn’t be here but isn’t happy about being watched either. She says that if the cameras “were only meant for port security, they would only be facing the port.” She doesn’t want to feel like she’s being watched by somebody “for some reason or another … every time I walk out of my house.”
Eighth speaker is another Alki beachfront resident who says he lives just down the street from some of the cameras. He wants to talk about history. “Coming from a law enforcement family, I’m disappointed that a choice was made to purchase this technology that breeds complacency on the job.” He says this is the first time he’s spoken at a Council meeting. Ninth speaker is John Loftis, a former vice chair of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, and 20-year Alki resident. “It is not a high-crime area … One of the main reasons for this is that Alki is flanked by a high-density residential neighborhood. Most of us seldom close our blinds … and represent hundreds of sets of eyes at any one time.” He says that’s a very effective type of surveillance and “don’t need this type of camera to monitor the beach.” He thinks someone should be embarrassed that one of the cameras is across the street from a popular volleyball and sunbathing spot, and calls it Bikini Cam. “One of these women might have a bomb in her bikini top, I guess.” He says he just hopes his wife does not become “Miss Torso” to someone who can point and zoom the camera.
Tenth speaker is a woman who says she doesn’t want to be seen on camera because she doesn’t want the government “all in my business. … I’m calling you out because you’re wrong.” She says “I came down here to say you’re out of control.”
At 2:32 pm, the briefing begins as SPD and others introduce themselves. Councilmembers sit at a smaller table during committee meetings. Harrell and O’Brien still are the only members here. Councilmember Licata has not arrived (he is due at an unrelated West Seattle meeting tonight, though).
**EDITOR’S NOTE, POST MEETING – IF YOU ARE READING THIS FROM THE HOME PAGE TO GET THE REST OF OUR AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE AT THIS LINK:
Seattle Police Deputy Chief Clark Kimerer starts by saying “We are in a very, very dangerous time … all of these things call for us to be as vigilant as we can be … to interdict effectively where the next hazard, next catastrophe is going to come from.” He says the ports are the top vulnerability, and this project is a technological way to protect and deter.
Councilmember Harrell says all the discussion so far has not covered the fact the cameras are “on residences.” Kimerer counters that and says, they are not on residences. He refers back to Dr. Washington’s testimony (Beach Drive resident) and says “these are NOT cameras that look into people’s living rooms,” reiterating the masking capabilities of the cameras.
Det. Monty Moss, point person on the project, now takes up the PowerPoint (see link at the start of this story) and explains the “wireless mesh” system – with a diagram showing the transmissions point-to-point. The background information says the network will, when complete, include 158 access points and “up to 30 cameras.”
Harrell says he doesn’t need a long briefing about the non-camera aspect of the network and wonders, regarding the cameras, why this conversation is being had now, given the “Seattle sensitivity.”
Det. Moss says “This entire project, cameras and wireless mesh network, has been a (multi-department) collaborative project since the beginning.”
Det. Moss shows the extensive downtown mesh network area. City Councilmember O’Brien asks if the system would work for various agencies “if somebody came along and unplugged the cameras.” Basically, SPD says, yes. (A bit of applause ripples from somewhere in the gallery.”
SPD now stresses that none of the cameras are operational. (The background doc above explains exactly which ones are installed so far and which are not. Subsequently, SPD here says two were installed this week on the Ballard Bridge, one in Fremont. Next they show the slide of West Seattle cameras that are now installed. Apparently Admiral would have been installed by now but “somebody drove over the pole” that they wanted to use.)
They’re now showing something you won’t see in the PDF of the PowerPoint – the masking demonstration (which has previously been shown in a video attached to an SPD Blotter post – we’ll go back and add illustrations to all this).
Deputy Chief Kimerer says they’re not just making up the masking spots – they will “go to the community” to ask about them. (We were told in an interview on February 1st that no community discussions were planned.) The masking will be part of what is recorded by the digital-video recorder – it cannot be removed after the fact. He says, for example, “The Alki neighborhood can help us” determine the masking. (We will follow up to ask how citizens can help and when.)
Det. Moss says someone using the system will have to be authorized – including using the recorder that is capturing the images. “Everything they do (will be) tracked,” for “an audit trail,” he says.
Deputy Chief Kimerer asks Assistant Fire Chief AD Vickery, sitting next to him, for his thoughts. He mentions post-incident analysis.
Councilmember Harrell looks at the one of the frames in the powerpoint and says he thought the existing cameras downtown were just looking at cars – but this frame shows three people who probably didn’t know they were on camera – so what’s the camera’s purpose? Det. Moss says it’s from one of four cameras deployed around the Columbia Center – and privately owned. They’re in “testing” mode, Moss reveals, without police and fire access.
Councilmember O’Brien now has a question about the masking: “there’s a fear for me that if all this is is some programming, who’s to say that in some emergency someone can’t just go in and take this off – and internally all this seems to be monitored by the police, is there some third party (auditing)?” Det. Moss says basically, trust them, even though they’ve had trust issues lately, they are professional and will control access.
3 PM now, and Harrell is moving toward wrapping this up, saying “we’re not going to solve this today … but just wanted to identify the issues.” Chief Kimerer says they’re here to talk further about “collaborating on accountability.” Det. Moss notes that the people shown on camera in the demo are not identifiable and that SPD does not have any technology to identify them.
O’Brien says the fear isn’t that, but “what if someone immoral DOES have access to this … the fact that this is available is what folks are nervous about … I think we really want to understand … and I think this does get to a bigger issue – this is the second meeting (of the committee) in a row where we are talking about (new types of) surveillance … and it’s further along, in a direction none of us anticipated.” He mentions the legislation that’s being worked on by Councilmember Licata and others for “some guidance.”
Revelation – the proposal for cameras in Golden Gardens (on all the maps we’ve been given) have been withdrawn, says Det. Moss. They’re now looking for a “non-park location” in Shilshole. Apparently, according to someone reading from the rules, “explicit council approval” is required for cameras installed in parks (because of previous situations). Without mentioning Alki, Harrell asks what about cameras pointed AT parks (as at least four of the West Seattle cameras are – by Constellation Park, by Statue of Liberty Plaza, across from Seacrest Pier, by the Shoremont Apartments on Alki).
No audio, and the video is stored for 30 days (we’ve reported both of those before) – with an audit log that will be kept for 90 days, regarding who’s using camera/video.
Questioned by Harrell, SPD reiterates that March 31st is their goal for activating the cameras – that’s when some degree of “spending authority” ends. Harrell notes that more public notice of all sorts of things related to this is important – even WHEN this kind of technology is to be purchased.
So when is there going to be outreach? is what Harrell seems to be asking now. “These questions need to be answered before they’re turned on.” Kimerer agrees March 31st is not likely achievable. So, asks O’Brien, what WOULD have to happen before you turn them on? Come back before this committee? Have a public meeting? The policy, says Kimerer, would be subject to “a little more public (discussion).”
Then comes the revelation that apparently Det. Monty Moss is coming out to Alki “tomorrow’ to talk about the cameras with someone. With whom, we’re working to find out – neither we nor the Alki residents who came out to speak at this hearing had heard about this.
ADDED 3:46 PM: The hearing is over but the meeting continues. We have been outside chambers talking with Deputy Chief Kimerer, Det. Moss, and others. So far it appears the meeting tomorrow might be the Alki Community Council – we’re checking with its leadership. SPD also says there will be two “big public meetings” – though the reps here did not know when/where, they thought one would be in West Seattle. And yes, they said, in retrospect, they wish – “politically” – that they had talked to the community about this in advance. The Assistant Chief we spoke with on February 1st, Paul McDonagh, was not here, we learned, because he’s out of town; Dep. Chief Kimerer was filling in. When we have more confirmed information about public discussions, we’ll publish a separate update as well as adding the information here. What exactly must happen next to satisfy the mayor and some councilmembers’ concern of “public vetting” still isn’t entirely clear.
6:06 PM: We’ve confirmed the Alki discussion tomorrow is during an Alki Community Council board meeting – public welcome – 7 pm Thursday, Alki UCC (62nd and Hinds).
ALSO: Lisa Herbold from the office of Councilmember Licata points out he was testifying on an unrelated matter in Olympia today and unable to be at this hearing – but he just wrote extensively about the issue here, and there should be word of the aforementioned legislation soon.