Seattle Police surveillance cameras: Second Q/A meeting tonight in Belltown; what the City Council said ‘yes’ to

March 19, 2013 at 9:23 am | In Seattle Police surveillance cameras, West Seattle news | 27 Comments

While the Seattle Police surveillance cameras first noticed by WSB readers two months ago are often referred to as the “Alki cameras” – the system includes other neighborhoods north from here, as far north as Ballard. And that’s why tonight, SPD’s second questions/answers meeting – following up the one we covered last Tuesday on Alki – is scheduled for the Belltown Community Center (415 Bell Street; map), 7 pm.

SPD reiterated last week that there would be others, but none have been announced yet. So thus far the public discussion, which started three weeks after media coverage, has consisted of:
*Public Safety, Civil Rights, Technology Committee briefing February 20th (WSB coverage here)
*Alki Community Council briefing February 21st (WSB coverage here)
*Alki Bathhouse meeting March 12th (WSB coverage here)

The system is the result of a Homeland Security grant sought by the city and originally approved by the Public Safety Committee last year (as reported here January 31st) – described at the time only as a “port security” system, without any mention of cameras in residential/recreational areas such as Alki.

Yesterday, the full City Council approved a new set of city rules that among other things, they say, will prevent that from happening in the future – as co-sponsor Councilmember Nick Licata put it, the controversial camera-equipped “drones” were also part of a grant that the council apparently approved two years before they suddenly turned up.

Co-sponsor Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, gave the topline description: “The legislation basically requires all city departments to obtain City Council approval prior to acquiring surveillance equipment” as well as Council approval for how the equipment, and the data it gathers, will be managed. It has been said that this will cover the Alki-to-Ballard cameras, even though most of them have been installed, with the “protocols” to be proposed for that system and any other surveillance equipment in place “no later than 30 days after this takes effect.”

The bill also requires “public outreach conducted in each community” where surveillance equipment would be installed.

Harrell also noted that the bill had been changed between committee discussion and vote two weeks ago and yesterday’s full Council vote.

Phil Mocek, a local activist who has been closely covering the surveillance-camera situation and related issues, points out on his website that major changes were reviewed at yesterday morning’s Council briefing meeting, hours before the afternoon vote. As he writes, and as can be seen in Seattle Channel video of the briefing meeting, Harrell mentioned SPD leadership sending the council a letter last Friday expressing a concern about “somehow … inhibiting Seattle Police ability to use surveillance equipment in certain criminal investigations on a temporary basis.” Harrell said a paragraph regarding that exemption was “already in the bill” but that they added further language SPD wanted. Licata expressed concern “about how large a loophole it was”; Harrell at that point noted more changes were made at the Seattle Police Department’s request. Licata said his concern was the definition of “criminal investigation” and whether a broad definition would open everyone to surveillance. Harrell said he didn’t think there was “ambiguity” in the definition. There was talk of maybe holding the bill – but in the end, they didn’t.

The version now online includes this paragraph:

Notwithstanding the provisions of this Chapter, City departments may acquire or use surveillance equipment that is used on a temporary basis for the purpose of a criminal investigation supported by reasonable suspicion, or pursuant to a lawfully issued search warrant, or under exigent circumstances as defined in case law. This exemption from the provisions of this ordinance does not apply to surveillance cameras mounted on drones or other unmanned aircraft.

Back to the cameras installed along West Seattle’s shores – including Harbor and Alki Avenues, Beach Drive, and Fauntleroy Way near the ferry dock, with one planned for Admiral (map) – the next steps to activation remain unclear; Mayor McGinn first told WSB on February 11th: “The system will not be operated until a thorough public vetting of the system has been completed and the public has provided input.” That “vetting” continues with the Belltown meeting tonight.

27 Comments

  1. Yikes! There is a world of difference and potential Fourth Amendment violations between “reasonable suspicion” and a lawfully issued search warrant! One solution = ask the Mayor to veto this version, and return it to the Council to amend this paragraph (SMC 14.18.40) and require the SPD to GET A WARRANT in every circumstance.

    Comment by Molly — 10:07 am March 19, 2013 #

  2. I feel much safer with these Cameras. Thanks Seattle!

    Comment by JJ — 11:06 am March 19, 2013 #

  3. I live on Alki Ave SW. across from the beach and I welcome the cameras.

    Comment by Amrakx — 12:18 pm March 19, 2013 #

  4. Surveillance cameras didn’t prove effective for one person in Chicago:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2013/03/19/murder_rate_chicago_man_is_beaten_to_death_in_full_view_of_surveillance.html

    I guess the family might be comforted….

    Comment by Jim — 12:21 pm March 19, 2013 #

  5. I wish they would put one up facing the bus stop at Delridge Way/Trenton. Getting real tired of the graffiti tagging at that bus stop.

    Comment by Ray — 12:32 pm March 19, 2013 #

  6. As I support the cameras (and am not swayed by anecdotal evidence or individual data points, whether they support or refute effectiveness), I’m glad to see the petition has a measley 100 signatures.
    .
    My feeling is that a “marginal decrease” (although the phrase doesn’t have much meaning) is great.

    Comment by AE — 1:04 pm March 19, 2013 #

  7. I called the mayor’s office to voice my opposition about the legislation. Where are the elected officials that want to protect our liberties? Language-wise, I consider this a liberty issue as it is my concern that this leads us to our country becoming a police state. If you want to video your private property, well fine. But public spaces should be free from technological surveillance. We are assumed innocent until proven guilty. If you think that you don’t do anything wrong so you don’t care, well with the use of surveillance technology, predictive policing and big data it could be relatively easy for law enforcement to make a mistake and assume you are a criminal. In New York City, the police have a right to stop, detain, frisk and search your person without a warrant based on how you look. Do we want to live with laws like that?

    Comment by citizen — 1:28 pm March 19, 2013 #

  8. Citizen.My liberties lie in the right to live in a safe environment .If these cameras just once help detain a criminal then honestly I do not care if a mistake is made at other times…..

    Comment by Mn — 2:20 pm March 19, 2013 #

  9. Some of these comments sound a little over-the-top to me. “Police state”? The “right to protect yourself” stuff always makes me think of yahoos running around parks with guns, and I don’t like that. “Innocent until proven guilty” has nothing to do with the conversation. Who, exactly, was sentenced before trial based on cameras?
    .
    Calling people “scared and helpless” when you don’t know a thing about them just makes you lose any credibility. You don’t know how other people feel or why they have the opinions they do. So express your opinion (and dare I say you’ve done plenty of that) and leave others to do the same.

    Comment by amalia — 2:46 pm March 19, 2013 #

  10. If any of you have been to London, did the cameras everywhere, in any way reduce your enjoyment of the city and its offerings. Having lived in the city back in the 70s (pre cameras) and off and on recently, my experience is there is no difference except perception. If the cameras are offensive, exercise your right to move and live elsewhere.

    Comment by Amrakx — 2:52 pm March 19, 2013 #

  11. Bruce Harrell is one person that will never get a vote for mayor from me. He is as wishy washy as SPD Paul McDonagh and McGinn from what I have seen on this camera deal, and do not care what the people of seattle have to say. From the start they have constantly changed their stories. These people involved with this project are going to do what ever it takes to keep this project going as they don’t want to look STUPID once again for spending first without doing proper research on this camera issue, just like the drones and more. It is a very bad problem wide spread through out seattle goverment.
    I find it interesting to the camera placement why are they going up in middle class and lower areas and not high end like the big section along Alki ave $$$$$ Condo lane ? which would have the best views of the water ? because this has nothing to do with PORT SECURITY and the condo owners would not put up with the cameras outside their big picture windows.

    Comment by wetone — 3:43 pm March 19, 2013 #

  12. See also: “City Council stumbles upon warrantless surveillance by police unfit for public discussion and unqualified for private discussion”, which includes a transcript of yesterday’s council briefing discussion of the bill that passed later in the day.

    Comment by Phil Mocek — 3:47 pm March 19, 2013 #

  13. Why are they not installing one at Emma Schmitz park on Beach Drive? There are drug deals going on there during the night, and then we had that poor woman who was murdered there a year ago.

    Comment by VideoGal — 4:39 pm March 19, 2013 #

  14. big brother watching us is a bad idea

    Comment by w.s. maverick — 4:41 pm March 19, 2013 #

  15. Despite the way the discussion has turned, these were not funded as crime-stopping cameras. SPD says that will be a bonus of sorts. These were funded by the federal government as “port security” cameras, and much of the discussion, besides “why weren’t they announced before installation?”, is along the lines of “how are these camera locations playing into port security?” (SPD’s answer has been, views of the waterways going TO and FROM ports.)

    Comment by WSB — 4:42 pm March 19, 2013 #

  16. My point is I simply dont care if videos are installed. Just like I do not care if I am “frisked ” at the aiport. If it is a deterrant even small then great. If they catch me one night walking my dog …Yipppeee Who cares?

    Comment by Mn — 5:13 pm March 19, 2013 #

  17. Sort of hard to view the waterways with a camera the SPD says can only zoom in to 150yds (450′) The number SPD said at Alki meeting. That’s about where the low tide goes to. What I see is the fraudulent use of monies Homeland Security gave to SPD for Port Security, it has little to do with the port. Funded by us, people that pay taxes.

    Comment by wetone — 5:43 pm March 19, 2013 #

  18. @Amalia: I don’t feel like my comments are over the top. I think perhaps I’m not explaining the whole picture of the danger of moving down the road to more and constant surveillance. Please give me that.

    Mn: I get it that you think a mistake could never happen to you. But what about the damage to innocent people that will be harrassed or jailed by the police. I definitely want to solve crime and bring criminals to justice, but is it possible that there could be a better way to being people to justice without stepping on innocent people’s civil rights? I have been harrassed by the police (stopped for a made up reason, followed with my elderly mom and sister in our car and I don’t have a criminal record) and been a victim of crime.

    What I mean about “innocent until proven guilty” is that law enforcement is using the practice of situational crime prevention (SCP). That is, to assume criminality is normal behavior and to takes steps to prevent it you should put in “controls.” So by that reasoning, we are all potential criminals just waiting for the right situation. That’s what I meant by “innocent unt proven guilty”. Plus you now have warrentless stop and searches without probable cause in New York City. Do you really want that here? What are your thoughts on the limits on law enforcements? I would rather we look into the why of crime and look at ways to, “…change the drivers of crime.” P571, Excerpt From: Morozov, Evgeny. “To Save Everything, Click Here.” PublicAffairs, 2013-01-17.

    The evidence on surveillance technology providing a definite improvement in society is not proven. So I agree that anecdotal examples are interesting but should not be the one defining thing by which to make a decision on legislation that can have a long and harmful reach. I have heard that there is some data that may show that cameras displace crime and prevention is minimal. I think the often touted, “if it prevents one thing than it is worth doing” is over used and that hearing that, it makes me want to do more research before reacting.

    Comment by citizen — 6:05 pm March 19, 2013 #

  19. @ Avrian: I think you did a good thing starting the petition and I commend your efforts. Please don’t give up on it already. Perhaps you could bring it to tonight’s meeting. :)

    Comment by citizen — 6:07 pm March 19, 2013 #

  20. Yes, Avrian, don’t lose heart with the petition. Certainly there has to be a wider audience in Seattle that cares about this issue, understands its importance, and would like to be part of the petition process.

    Comment by CE — 6:52 pm March 19, 2013 #

  21. Avrian: are you at the meeting tonight?

    Comment by citizen — 7:34 pm March 19, 2013 #

  22. I meant to say, “guilty until proven innocent” not the thee way around.

    Comment by citizen — 9:28 pm March 19, 2013 #

  23. Avrian, what about the ACLU? Deputy Director Jennifer Shaw has been tirelessly opposing the drones and the cameras. They just posted this petition opposing the pending Woodinville surveillance cameras – https://www.aclu.org/secure/urge-woodinville-city-council-reject-surveillance-cameras

    Comment by Molly — 11:26 pm March 19, 2013 #

  24. Avrian,
    Thanks for all your efforts to publicize the petition. I’m really surprised that people so willingly accept surveillance in Seattle.

    Comment by CE — 8:49 am March 20, 2013 #

  25. Send the cameras over to Westwood and South Delridge where crime is actually happening. I would welcome the surveillance.

    Comment by Tom — 10:44 am March 20, 2013 #

  26. CE ..Im dismayed that people so willingly and vocally oppose it. Maybe when you read one day how a video snap caught a car thief or vandal in your area will you appreciate the camera’s.
    I have nothing to hide that cameras worry me. nor if a police car pulled me over to question me (accidently) do i care . Cameras and surveillance make our area safer…period !!

    Comment by Mn — 12:34 pm March 20, 2013 #

  27. Putting cameras in high crime or wealthy areas would and will never happen first in this city for a couple different reasons. Thats why they start in areas like they have with the least resistance and expand. Notice how there is no cameras infront of big dollar condo’s on Alki, best view of water is from that area if these were for Port Security. SPD said reason why was because they can not pick up signal from that area, not true.

    Comment by wetone — 5:15 pm March 21, 2013 #

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