7:09 PM: We’re at Alki Bathhouse with more than thirty people as Seattle Police start their first meeting about the surveillance-camera system originally reported here on WSB. Leading off the meeting, Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who we interviewed about the system back on February 1st. Also here, Det. Monty Moss, who has led some of the briefings, and a full complement of citywide media, plus other SPD personnel (including from the public affairs/media relations office, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb and Det. Jeff Kappel). Moss is making a background-information slide presentation, similar so far to the ones he gave to the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee on February 20th as well as to the Alki Community Council the next night. (Added: Unedited WSB video of the entire hour-and-a-half meeting:)
7:12 PM: Det. Moss says they should be “done with the installation by the end of this month” and are continuing to work on policies regarding the cameras’ usage. He says two cameras are being installed “as we speak” in the Ballard Locks area, and they’re still seeking a location along Seaview, “but it will not be in Golden Gardens Park.” Closer to here, he says the Terminals 5 and 18 cameras are now installed. After discussing the camera locations, he’s showing the video demonstration about how the “privacy masking” will work, and noting that the frame rate for the video will be 5 to 7 frames per second, about a quarter of what TV broadcasts use. He says the video is recorded with the masking, and that it cannot be removed afterward – no matter what the cameras wind up picking up.
He also describes the antenna arrays for the “wireless mesh” portion of the system, which is expected to be used by other agencies from Metro to Seattle Fire, which will use it in some areas as its primary means of communication, according to Det. Moss.
The crowd continues to grow – probably closer to 40 now.
**CONTINUING AHEAD, THE REST OF OUR AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE, PLUS NOTES FROM AFTERWARD**
7:23 PM: “What we’re proposing is a public-safety system,” says Chief McDonagh, taking over. But, he says, there are privacy concerns, which he says they discussed early on. There is a possibility of putting a physical barrier between cameras and whatever they shouldn’t see, but, he says, that would be vulnerable to vandalism. “This privacy masking occurs at the camera before anyone sees it,” and that’s why he says they chose that method. “Part of this program going forward … the idea here is, it’s not going to end there. “We’re going to have a situation where civilians can see the privacy masking as it’s up” and comment. He also says they will put up a website that “every camera” will be viewable on – this is new. He deals with terrorism, he says, “and one of the threats is to our maritime industry so my job is to provide public safety to the citizens of Seattle under that arena. .. The video will be recorded but I will not be staffing it 24/7.” He says it will be a “response tool and investigative tool .. and with the privacy masking we believe we will not have an issue” of violating someone’s privacy. He says what we’ve heard before, that the video would be retained for 30 days unless it’s pulled out – then, if not pulled out (which would be logged) for a criminal investigation, it would be overwritten. He says SPD believes it’s the only agency in the country that will be putting privacy masking on surveillance cameras. “A lot of what you’re saying requires that we just trust (you),” asks an Alki resident. “I can log onto a website and see that it seems masked but” how can that be proven? Chief McDonagh then says that it could be viewed by citizens who are chosen to be able to do that “whenever they want” – members of the Precinct Advisory Committee are being proposed. “The whole intention of this is not to spy on the citizens of Seattle … I don’t want that either … there are things in place in the policy that is being drafted right now” for privacy protections.
Now we’re not clear whether he’s saying the cameras will be visible via a public website or via members of the public chosen to come to SPD HQ and vet them.
7:32 PM: “This project is the port … we have a reason to be concerned about the port, and that’s what we are addressing,” McDonagh said. Then Sgt. Verner O’Quin says what they will make available is a still every 30 seconds or 2 minutes – McDonagh chimes in, “what we’re trying to do is not enable (somebody to become a) stalker.” Someone asks if this system will make Seattle more susceptible to cyber-attack. Next question, what’s the zooming capability of the cameras, and will the park area be masked? 150 yards-ish, is the zooming answer. Re: the parks, Det. Moss says, “anything that the public has the right to see, the camera has the right to see.” What about something visible from the sidewalk? “If you as a human being can see it, that’s OK, but a camera, that’s illegal,” says Det. Moss.
What about the position of the cameras? The Fauntleroy camera appears not to be facing the water, it’s pointed out. That may just be a mistake, just like the original position of some of the Alki cameras, is the SPD reply. (Here’s a photo we’ve published before:)
A man says he’s from Spud Fish and Chips and they’ve had graffiti problems and he wonders if the cameras can help catch the vandals. Contact police and “it could be used for that” if it has recorded a crime in progress, Chief McDonagh says. He is asked next, “How can you do surveillance at Alki but you couldn’t at Golden Gardens?” McDonagh starts to say that’s because they’re across the street – he is corrected: “They’re on the sidewalk.” He says, “Well, all I can say is, they’re not in the park.” A man now identifies himself as a Socialist Workers representative and brings up the Longview situation last year. He says he believes this will be used in the future to suppress protest activities. Next, they are asked about the specific cameras. Both are Canons, police reply. The next question results in information that three thermal-imaging cameras were installed on Harbor Patrol boats – not at fixed locations.
In response to the next question, McDonagh says the Port of Seattle *is* a partner in this system – which hadn’t been clarified before. One attendee points out this won’t have any preventive effects. Chief McDonagh counters that by saying he believes that the cameras could help “interdict” a terrorist act. “Video has been able to successfully resolve a number of cases” worldwide, says McDonagh. Next, a woman says she is “old-fashioned” in being behind police and public-safety personnel, whatever they do, but she also is behind the Bill of Rights and unlawful search/seizure. She says she lives nearby and “it kind of hurts to think of having cameras looking at us. I’m a cancer patient. I can’t tell you how many times I go out for a walk … I use this beach to heal. I don’t want someone looking and saying, ‘There she is again.’ Just because you can do a thing, doesn’t mean you should do a thing. I taught computers for years and they have changed from what they originally started to be. I’m calling for something that’s a check for common sense. What’s wrong with including the fact that people love this beach, want to play on the beach, walk our dogs … we don’t want a camera watching us do it.”
7:49 PM: McDonagh says they don’t want to watch people on the beach and most cameras won’t be turned that way – but the cameras may be helpful in some situations. He mentions long-ago riots on Alki, the plane crash near Salty’s, and how a camera might have helped in those cases. Det. Moss then mentions the “home” position each camera will have – except when it’s moved for an incident. “We’re not using facial recognition… there’s no analytics on the camera,” says Det. Moss. An Alki resident then says, “Why did the cameras go up before residents were told? And you installed them (incorrectly) … It seems there was a rush to get them up … I’m curious what the rush was.” Chief McDonagh says there were “plans for press conferences … but (something) came up.” He said they were “in a rush because we have a certain timeline for the grant.”
Will there be signs letting people know they’re on camera? asks an attendee. “I’m not opposed to putting a sticker or sign on them,” says McDonagh. He’s asked to clarify, and he says, one that could be seen from 30 feet away would be OK. Next question comes from Phil Mocek, who has been researching this situation. He asks where the rest of the money went, since it was said at the Alki Community Council meeting last month that this system took $3.5 million of the nearly $5 million grant. Chief McDonagh says King County’s helicopter was the recipient of some of the equipment, and it’s all in the RFP and contract proposal. Sgt. O’Quin says that’s available online. McDonagh says, “I know it all came out kind of strange, but at the same time, we’re not hiding anything, my duty is to protect and to maintain your privacy, and I think we came up with a very good compromise.”
8 PM: A woman says that she understands the police think they are doing the right thing, but so did others in the past such as when Japanese-Americans were interned. She mentions the “health dangers” of being “immersed in a radio-frequency cloud … of wi-fi.”
McDonagh says he agrees that he wants to avoid the “slippery slope.” Next a man says he went around and noticed the installations were powered. Yes, they have power, police acknowledged, but the cameras are not activated. Did SPD get the microphone option for the cameras it’s using? the man asked. No – recording audio is illegal, he was told. Next question: If many agencies will use it, who owns the backbone? The city of Seattle, is the reply. The followup: What if someone penetrates the network; what would they have access to? Det. Moss replies, “We have a lot of layers of security and the partners that will be using the network have a lot of layers beyond that.” How many non-public entities will have access? “We’re putting up public-safety cameras for fire, police, traffic to use,” replied Det. Moss. He said he was asked “if the feds are paying for this, why don’t they have access to it?” and said he replied that the cameras will help public-safety agencies do their jobs. “The feds are not connecting to our network” – aside from the US Coast Guard remaining “under consideration” to do that.
8:12 PM: There’s no backup power for the mesh system, is the response to another question. If there’s a problem, the electric system can rewire around a localized outage, Chief McDonagh said. This system is not replacing radio and other communications, he says – it is designed to “compliment” it. “Could you keep the mesh system for communication and ditch the cameras?” someone else asks. “Yes – but the need remains,” said McDonagh, insisting he is not “paranoid … I’m trying to implement a system focused on a specific threat … so that we can hopefully protect our city.” Will the 90-day access log for the cameras be public record? We can do that, says McDonagh. He says yes, there can be a map of their final locations, but he does not believe they can map its final field of view. Next, he says the cameras will not affect how Alki is staffed with police officers. Those officers will not be able to control the cameras from the field – it’s a fixed view “until someone takes control of the camera.” This is not related to the recently announced Predictive Policing (“PredPol”), he said. McDonagh also said that they’re aware, as discussed at last week’s Council committee briefing, that the technology and rules will have to be re-evaluated a few years down the line. But, he said, there are some areas of the city that WANT cameras. “Couldn’t you give it to them?” someone then asks. Reply: “No, I can’t.” A man then comes up to say that he has no problems with the cameras, with X-ray machines at airports, he doesn’t understand why people are concerned about “things that make us safer,” and police “can put all the cameras on my block you want.”
8:19 PM: So how will the public view of the surveillance cameras not be exploited by someone? police are asked. Det. Moss says that a still refreshed every 2 minutes or so should keep it from not becoming “a reality show.’ If there’s an incident in progress, the cameras would be taken offline, Chief McDonagh says, so that people don’t “steal those images and put them on the Web … that would be disrespectful.” Someone points out that SDOT’s traffic cameras are listed online and have one-minute refreshes – and they have a few that provide live video. McDonagh reiterates that he doesn’t want to provide video, but the idea of having all the cameras listed on a map, “that’s what we want to design,” though it’s not done yet.
Now a man who says he has lived nearby for years recounts a “shootout” that had a long response time. (He seems to be talking about the Pepperdock shooting a few years back.) But now, “Big Brother moving in … is it really going to make a difference?” Cameras are going to have some deterrence, McDonagh said. “But what does it do to us residents? Do we have to worry about what we do now because (we’re being watched)?” No, says McDonagh, before a restaurant owner says he thinks people might come back here because they feel safer. Then someone else says yes, but people might not come here because they’ll be visible on camera. This moves to a dialogue between attendees for a while, and then McDonagh takes control again. “It’s technology moving forward … what we’re trying to do is apply technology with guidelines and controls.” He reiterates that the main concern is what’s happening out on the water. “Is a license plate enough to get a conviction for a crime” if something is caught on camera? McDonagh is asked. He says it might help but first the individuals involved must be identified.
8:31 PM: The meeting is close to wrapping up. The topic of the International District’s privately owned camera system comes up again. It helped solve crimes, Det. Moss says; they asked the camera owners for the video. They’re asked if the system could be used for a wiretap; not without a judge signing a warrant, is the reply. Will the cameras be used for covert surveillance operations? is the followup question, say, you can point the camera at the home of someone who turns out to be a suspect? If a judge is convinced, theoretically, yes, but McDonagh thinks that’s not too likely.
*The meeting ended shortly thereafter. We’ve just spoken to Chief McDonagh with a few questions for clarification; will update and add some more background links and images here when we’re back at HQ.
10:53 PM: We have the entire meeting on video and have just added the clip, unedited, near the top of this report. From the aforementioned conversation: Yes, he confirms, the website they’re working on would be accessible to anyone, with stills from the cameras in the network – that’s an update from the original suggestion they might make a “few” cameras available online. We asked if they have decided who would be able to control the cameras; McDonagh says they will recommend that “supervisors” have the ability – say, a shift commander for police, maybe a battalion chief for the Fire Department, a manager in the Traffic Management Center for SDOT – but this will all be brought to the City Council for approval, as per the terms of the surveillance-system oversight rules on which the council will vote next Monday.
If you couldn’t make it to this meeting but want to hear the presentation firsthand, and/or ask questions, there’s another one next Tuesday (March 19), 7 pm, at the Belltown Community Center, 415 Bell St., and others TBA, per SPD. If you have something to say in the meantime, SPD has set up the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org.
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