Seattle Police surveillance cameras – West Seattle Blog… West Seattle news, 24/7 Mon, 18 Jun 2018 14:03:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 UPDATE: Never-used Seattle Police surveillance cameras, wireless-mesh network being removed, starting today in West Seattle Mon, 29 Jan 2018 19:39:19 +0000

(WSB photo from 2013: One of the camera/”wireless mesh” installations on Alki)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Exactly five years ago today – thanks to reader questions about mysterious installations on utility poles – we broke the news of a city technology project that led to a citywide controversy: The Seattle Police Department procuring and installing surveillance cameras as part of a “wireless mesh” network, without advance notice to, or discussion with, the community.

The resulting uproar led to the cameras never being put into use, but they have remained in place on poles in West Seattle and elsewhere. Our last mention of them was almost four years ago, when we asked then-Mayor Ed Murray if they would ever be used (the installation happened while his predecessor Mike McGinn was mayor). The answer at the time wasn’t a definitive “no” but at some point evolved to that – and now, starting in West Seattle today, the wireless-mesh and camera installations are being taken down.

Megan Erb from Seattle Information Technology tells WSB that a contractor is working in West Seattle today and tomorrow to remove the 10 installations here before moving on to other parts of the city. She says the removal work actually was originally scheduled for October but various circumstances have been pushing the timeline back.

As reported in our coverage five years ago, City Councilmembers had voted in 2012 to approve receipt of the federal Homeland Security grant that paid for the cameras/network – but the plan was described only as “port security,” without a hint the cameras would be installed in recreational and residential areas such as Alki. This 2013 map showed where they were placed (with one exception – the Alki Point camera was never installed):

(2013 SPD map)

28 cameras eventually were installed in the city, as noted in our coverage of one of the public meetings held after news of the network came to light.

We have a few followup questions including what will be done with the equipment – which Erb points out is far out-of-date now anyway – and how much the removal is costing; we’ll add that information when we get it.

ADDED 3:42 PM: After publishing the original story, we went by most of the camera spots – and noticed almost all are gone already; we found a crew from contractor Prime Electric wrapping up at Admiral Way Viewpoint (photo above). The answers to our follow-up questions are in: $150,000 is budgeted for the removal work citywide, but, Erb from Seattle IT says, “We won’t know the exact cost until the project is complete. Some cameras will be easier to remove then others based on their location and how they were installed.” She verified that there is no plan to try this again with different/newer equipment. And as for what will happen to the equipment that’s being taken down: “The tentative plan is for the cameras to go to SDOT to be repurposed into their traffic camera fleet.”

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WSB Q/A with the mayor, #2: Will SPD’s surveillance cameras ever be turned on? Tue, 25 Mar 2014 00:57:53 +0000

That’s the Seattle Police surveillance camera/wireless-mesh installation at 63rd and Beach Drive, not far from one of Mayor Ed Murray‘s boyhood homes. In our one-on-one interview with him Friday, we asked when he expected activation of that camera and the 30-plus others installed without notice early last year. WSB readers’ questions led to stories here, then in the citywide media, and eventually Murray’s predecessor promised a “thorough public vetting” before activation – a few public meetings followed (the last one was 10 months ago) – while City Councilmembers passed a law a year ago requiring a usage policy to be approved first too. That hasn’t happened yet. And that’s one reason, the mayor told us, he doesn’t expect them to be used for “a long time,” if ever:

The “money” to which he referred was a federal Homeland Security grant. As reported in another of our early stories about the cameras, councilmembers had voted in 2012 to approved the grant that funded the cameras, but the plan was described only as “port security,” without word the cameras would be installed in recreational and residential areas.

Tomorrow, two more stories from our conversation with the mayor, including his take on the alley-vacation controversy for the 4755 Fauntleroy Way development (archived coverage here), two weeks before it goes back to the City Council Transportation Committee.

(Installment #1, published earlier: Can anything be done about West Seattle Bridge traffic?)

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Other side of the Seattle Police surveillance cameras: Why the ‘wireless mesh’ is on but about to be turned off Thu, 14 Nov 2013 17:52:03 +0000 (UPDATED 10:21 am with information on when City Council’s likely to get proposed surveillance policies)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

When last we checked in on our area’s seven Seattle Police surveillance-cameras-in-waiting five months ago, which was four months after observant WSB readers helped bring their existence (and that of more than 20 other cameras) to light, they were awaiting a mayor/City Council green light.

Before that, policies had to be drafted and approved, by order of the council.

As we have been told every time we’ve asked since then, they’re not ready yet (but – see the update at story’s end – apparently will be, by early December).

But questions and concerns about the system have just resurfaced – this time, not because of the cameras themselves, but because of the “wireless mesh” wi-fi-type network that they are linked to, and its potential for a different kind of surveillance/tracking. The gear for this is visible next to each of the camera housings, though in some areas of the city, it is installed without a camera. This is what it looks like:

(61st/Alki; WSB photo taken Wednesday)
It’s part of a wi-fi-type communications network called “wireless mesh,” and its existence as part of the SPD setup was no secret. Here’s an SPD-presentation graphic shown here in February:

We reported it multiple times during our coverage of the cameras and the attendant controversy over their reach beyond funding obtained from the federal Department of Homeland Security in what was described last year only as a “port-security grant,” without a mention that it would include cameras to be installed in residential/recreational areas, with views of much more than “the port.” Similarly, the discussion of the “mesh” focused previously on public-safety personnel’s ability to use it without being reliant on public networks, without much sunshine on its capability to track non-public-safety devices.

That was the focus when the “wireless mesh” came up again in a new report by The Stranger (see the story here) which also noted that the “wireless mesh” is active – visible in plain sight, if you happen to check the wi-fi ID’s displayed near the installations. While The Stranger’s story focused on the downtown installations, the wireless-mesh setups are adjacent to the cameras here and active as well, part of what SPD said in February was intended to be a ~160-access-point network citywide (described in this document prepared for last spring’s Council briefing). We checked the visible West Seattle ID’s firsthand on Wednesday morning.

This map featured in WSB coverage back in February shows the local locations (there’s been one update to the map, as reported here in May – no installation at Alki Point):

(Map showing West Seattle camera locations, from SPD presentation slide deck)

On Wednesday, we drove to each one of the known locations with our laptop up and running, and looked at the list of wi-fi networks in the area at each one. The SPD installation was marked with its geographical ID, like this:

(The access point showing that label is at the Admiral Way Overlook)
The range for some is apparently fairly far – the eastern ones along Alki also show signals from installations downtown, like this one from the camera near Salty’s (labeled Fairmount/Alki but actually Fairmount/Harbor), which also shows Elliott/Blanchard across the bay:

SPD says the “mesh” is not being used, but because of concerns, and because operational policies have not yet gone to the Council has required, it will be turned off. We talked with SPD’s media-relations unit leader Sgt. Sean Whitcomb about this yesterday afternoon.

He says the “nodes” will be “deactivated … as soon as possible” but it is not something that can be done instantly: “It’s a complex process … the quote we have is for about $5,000 and 20 hours of engineer time and will take about a week to get done. The bid came in late Tuesday, he said, and SPD “is in the process of scheduling.”

Why was it on in the first place? “The port security grant required that the system be installed, and part of that was testing that it was installed correctly.” But it wasn’t shut down. “Now, in recognition that there are some very real concerns about privacy in the city, this additional step is being taken at the direction of Chief Pugel.”

You won’t see bucket trucks up on every pole turning a switch – it’s likely a “back-end software fix” of some kind. Sgt. Whitcomb says they also procured a bid on turning it off by “cut(ting) the power,” but that would have cost $20,000.

How will you know when they’ve turned it off? For one, you won’t see the ID’s. For two, he says they’ll likely announce it via the SPD Twitter feed so they can “take some credit for getting (the deactivation) done.”

As for policies/hearings preceding potential activation of the entire system, “wireless mesh,” surveillance cameras and all – still no timeline but Sgt. Whitcomb thinks it’s likely “soon.” We sent inquiries yesterday to the legislative assistants for City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who leads the Public Safety, Civil Rights & Technology Committee; no reply yet.

10:21 AM UPDATE: Just heard from Vinh Tang in Councilmember Harrell’s office:

The next Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee is scheduled for Wednesday, 12/04/13, 2 pm. Per Council rules, proposed legislation must be received by the City Clerk’s office by Tuesday noon, 22 days in advance of the committee date. As of 11/14, the committee has not received legislation from the executive. The committee will post the proposed legislation online for public review as soon as we receive it. The opportunity would be provided to SPD to present and discuss the proposed legislation and for the public to comment on the matter at the next committee meeting on 12/04, but no vote will be taken. The committee will conduct a thorough examination of the legislation and will listen to feedback from the public before any committee vote. No date has been determined yet for a committee vote but it will most likely take place in early 2014 after a thorough and transparent public process.

(Our coverage of the SPD surveillance cameras/wireless-mesh network is all archived here, newest to oldest)

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Seattle Police surveillance cameras: Harrell wants physical shielding Thu, 06 Jun 2013 04:09:54 +0000 We’re just out of the Southwest District Council‘s monthly meeting, where one of the guests was City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the committee that oversees public safety and technology. His committee was the one that originally signed off on the Seattle Police grant that led to the surveillance cameras that have been put up along with a “wireless mesh” communications system. Since SPD indicated that the third public meeting about the cameras, which we covered at Golden Gardens two weeks ago, would be the last, we’ve been trying to find out the next step; Mayor McGinn‘s office told us this week they don’t have a timetable for making a decision.

Tonight, Harrell – a candidate for mayor – was asked about the cameras during the SWDC meeting, and he indicated his primary concern is the fact they can “rotate” toward residential areas. Asked to clarify whether he supports activation of the more than two dozen cameras now installed, he said only if they either are rendered physically incapable of rotating toward residential areas, or if some sort of physical shield is placed preventing them from ever “seeing” residential areas. He said that’s what he wants to see instead of the programmed “masking” that SPD Det. Monty Moss, who heads up the program, has repeatedly demonstrated. Asked when the camera issue would come back before his committee, Harrell said he first wants a written briefing from SPD about the protocol for camera use here in West Seattle; he’s been verbally briefed, he said, but he wants to see the plan in writing. It’s been three months since his committee vetted a new city law requiring that type of documentation, and more, before the city could use surveillance cameras. (Our coverage of the surveillance cameras dates back to late January, when we learned about them after WSB readers noticed their unannounced installation; our archive, newest to oldest, is here.)

His appearance touched on other topics, and the council also heard from Department of Planning and Development Director Diane Sugimura regarding two current hot-button issues, small-lot homes and microhousng; toplines to be reported separately.

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Seattle Police surveillance cameras: Alki Point off the list Sat, 25 May 2013 05:13:24 +0000

We’ve just finished covering the third and, it appears, final Seattle Police-led public meeting about the surveillance cameras they’ve installed along with a wireless communication system, paid for by federal Department of Homeland Security dollars. For those who are interested but couldn’t make the meeting – announced last Tuesday night, held on this pre-holiday-weekend Friday night – we rolled video on the entire meeting and will upload it when we’re back at WSB HQ. The attendees who weren’t media or police numbered about eight. A few toplines, right now:

*The system first envisioned as having 30 cameras will total 28 – an Alki Point site near the lighthouse didn’t work out technically, SPD says. As previously announced, they also dropped a camera planned for Golden Gardens, which is where tonight’s meeting was held. All but one of the 28 cameras are now installed; the 28th, in Shilshole just outside Golden Gardens, is awaiting a fix for a cracked pole. (At right, one of the two cameras in central Alki.)

*The southernmost camera, on Fauntleroy Way over the southbound bus stop by the ferry dock, might focus on traffic bound for the dock, by request of Washington State Ferries, but SPD says that agency’s request for view-only access to the cameras hasn’t yet been approved.

*The nine camera locations on/near the downtown waterfront are “temporary” and likely to change because of the tunnel/seawall construction.

*The e-mail account set up by SPD for feedback on the camera system – – has received a total of “about 20” e-mails, 80 percent of them expressing opposition/concern.

Otherwise, the meeting followed the same format of the previous two, held in March on Alki and in Belltown, also led by Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh and Det. Monty Moss. SPD was also represented tonight by public affairs Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. What’s next: Mayor McGinn had said the cameras wouldn’t get the green light until a “thorough public vetting” had taken place so we’ll be checking with his office post-holiday-weekend. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, the aforementioned e-mailbox remains open.

ADDED SATURDAY MORNING, 9:24 AM: Our meeting video is finally ready, and is now atop this story.

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Reminder: SPD surveillance-cameras meeting tonight Fri, 24 May 2013 21:02:54 +0000 No daily preview today, so the WSB West Seattle Event Calendar is the place to go for what’s up tonight, including nightlife. One reminder about an event outside WS but potentially of interest: As announced earlier this week, it’s the third SPD public meeting about the not-yet-activated surveillance cameras installed from Fauntleroy to Alki to Shilshole (archived WSB coverage here). This meeting’s at the Golden Gardens Bathhouse, 7 pm tonight (map).

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Seattle Police surveillance cameras: Another public meeting Wed, 22 May 2013 04:16:39 +0000

(April photo of SPD surveillance camera installed at Admiral Way Viewpoint)
When last we checked with Mayor McGinn‘s office regarding the status of his decisionmaking on whether to give Seattle Police approval to activate the surveillance cameras installed from Fauntleroy to Alki to Admiral and beyond, they told us the ball was in SPD’s court, expecting the department to schedule “additional public meetings” (that quote’s in our March 31st update). Tonight, SPD has finally announced one more meeting: This Friday night, 7 pm, in Ballard. The announcement was made via SPD Blotter just after 8 pm tonight:

Got questions about the Port Security Grant? Missed our meetings in West Seattle and Belltown? Planning a staycation this Memorial Day weekend?

Well then, this opportunity is for you!

Tell us in person. We’ll be at the Golden Gardens Bathhouse, 8498 Seaview Pl. NW, Friday, May 24th at 7 p.m.

Can’t make it? Not a problem. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can send your thoughts to us electronically. Drop us an email at

The first two meetings were March 12 on Alki (WSB coverage here) and March 19 in Belltown. Missed the backstory? The “port-security grant” refers to a communication system including dozens of Seattle Police-managed surveillance cameras, funded by a federal grant originally described as being for port security, but since framed in a broader public-safety context. WSB readers were first to notice cameras being installed unannounced, which led to the news being broken here, if you go all the way back to the first story (January 29) in our archive.

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Seattle Police surveillance cameras: 1 installed in Admiral Thu, 04 Apr 2013 02:00:06 +0000

While the final decision on activating the new Homeland Security-funded, Seattle Police-operated surveillance-camera system isn’t in yet, at least one more has been installed. Max shared the photo taken at Admiral Way Viewpoint. SPD had said this installation lagged the others (including those that first drew attention in West Seattle two months ago) because the pole they wanted to use had been hit – now it’s fixed and the camera’s in place. As reported here on Sunday, which at one point was the SPD deadline for activating the cameras, Mayor McGinn‘s office says they’re still expecting SPD to set up more community meetings. They had two in March, one at Alki, one in Belltown; the cameras were originally described as “port security” but are in place in recreational/residential areas as well as other spots, with 30 designated sites in all from Fauntleroy to Ballard.

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Seattle Police surveillance cameras: No activation decision yet Mon, 01 Apr 2013 01:03:07 +0000 When we first reported two months ago on the new Seattle Police surveillance camera/wireless-mesh-communication system – after readers noticed cameras installed, unannounced, along Alki – SPD had expressed hopes of activating the system by March 31st – today.

Now that the date has arrived – in case you were wondering, we’ve verified it will come and go with no decision yet on when the system stretching from Fauntleroy to Ballard might be activated.

Mayor McGinn first said on February 11th, in a response to WSB, that “the system will not be operated without a thorough public vetting …” While he did not set specific criteria for that “vetting,” so far it has consisted of a briefing before the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee on February 20th (WSB coverage here), a briefing at the Alki Community Council‘s February 21st board meeting (WSB coverage here), an SPD-led briefing/Q-A session at Alki Bathhouse on March 12th (WSB coverage here, with video of the entire meeting), and a similar session one week later at Belltown Community Center.

We were not at that March 19th meeting, but privacy/technology activist Phil Mocek, who has closely followed and researched this, recorded and published its audio:

Grant/equipment-related documents he had sought through a public-disclosure request also are now available online.

With no updates since the March 19th meeting, we checked with the mayor’s office at week’s end to see the status of a possible decision. Spokesperson Aaron Pickus replied, “SPD is still putting together additional public meetings.”

The system was described as “port security” in the original May 2012 City Council discussions of the $5 million federal grant that’s paying for it, but in interviews and discussions over the past two months, police also have talked about other ways they, Seattle Fire, and others plan to use the camera system in developing public-safety situations. They also said for the first time at the Alki meeting on March 12th that images from the cameras would be made available to the public online – likely with a frame refreshing every two minutes or so.

For now, along with awaiting SPD word on the “additional public meetings,” we also are awaiting the department’s documentation of protocol for the cameras’ operation, as mandated by new city rules the council approved earlier this month. SPD had said those rules were being drafted by a “steering committee.” Its membership has not been disclosed; Mocek’s public-disclosure request regarding its membership is still awaiting fulfillment.

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Seattle Police surveillance cameras: Second Q/A meeting tonight in Belltown; what the City Council said ‘yes’ to Tue, 19 Mar 2013 16:23:19 +0000

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.

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Seattle Police surveillance cameras: Council meeting Monday; documents go public; online petition circulating Sun, 17 Mar 2013 04:29:16 +0000 Three notes tonight on the Seattle Police surveillance-camera system that is being installed now and that the department hopes to activate this spring:

COUNCIL VOTE MONDAY ON SURVEILLANCE-SYSTEM OVERSIGHT: This Monday during the Seattle City Council‘s regular 2 pm meeting, they are scheduled to vote on the proposal to give the council a role in overseeing city-owned/operated surveillance systems from hereon out. It is not a vote specifically on the 30-camera system that Seattle Police wants to use in connection with a federally funded “wireless mesh” communications system, but rather a vote on a bill setting policies regarding surveillance systems. As reported in as-it-happened coverage here, the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee discussed the bill on March 6, including amendments. Civil-liberties activist/writer Phil Mocek has compared an earlier version of the bill to the amended version that the council will consider Monday – showing and writing about the differences on his website here, including a side-by-side comparison. Along with other points, he notes that it speaks to concerns about communication – this system, you’ll recall, was being installed without any word to the public:

Instead of a description of the nature and extent of outreach performed, the bill now requires (in paragraph ‘H’) plans for public outreach for each community in which the surveillance equipment is intended to be used, including opportunity for public meetings, opportunity for comment periods, and written agency responses to public comments.

You can read the full bill here. The Monday afternoon council meetings do begin with a public-comment period; they’re in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall downtown.

PUBLIC-DISCLOSURE REQUEST: In late January (shortly after we first reported on the cameas), Mocek initiated public-disclosure actions seeking various types of documentation related to this system, and the resulting public release of documents is under way. Some have been made available on the website through which he filed the request, and others are in progress. Another local advocate, Andrew Pilloud, also filed for public release of documents and gave us the heads-up today that some are now available – he has written about it on his website, here. He says his concerns include the fact the city could vastly expand the camera network (as discussed in an online article we found in our early reporting on the system): “If the city was offered another grant, there is no technical reason not to add a camera to every other mesh node in the city for 180 in total.” He also says the cameras have capacities beyond what SPD originally sought – this came up briefly in Q/A at last Tuesday’s Alki Bathhouse meeting (WSB coverage, with video, here).

‘TAKE DOWN THE CAMERAS’ ONLINE PETITION: As mentioned previously in WSB comments and the WSB Forums, an online petition is circulating to ask the city to cancel the camera system. (At least twice in meetings we’ve covered, SPD leadership has said that could be done without affecting the “wireless-mesh” communications network.) The petition is here. It was created by Avrian Sellick, who tells WSB this is not only for those who are against the cameras: “The petition is also for those who are deeply concerned with the SPD’s handling of the public relations aspect of these cameras. … I really just want to give those people who are concerned about these cameras an organized avenue to communicate with the city and SPD.”

Side note: SPD plans another meeting about the surveillance cameras this Tuesday in Belltown, and has said there will be others, though no further dates have been announced. It’s at 7 pm Tuesday (March 19), Belltown Community Center.

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As-it-happened coverage: SPD surveillance-cameras meeting on Alki – ‘We’re not hiding anything’ Wed, 13 Mar 2013 02:09:43 +0000

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.


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

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In case you hadn’t heard: Surveillance-cameras meeting Tuesday night at Alki Bathhouse Tue, 12 Mar 2013 02:17:03 +0000

If you missed it over the weekend: Late Friday night, Seattle Police announced the dates/places/times for the first two public meetings about the Homeland Security-funded surveillance-camera system first reported here in late January (WSB coverage archive here): The first meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday) night, 7 pm, at the Alki Bathhouse, steps from the first camera noticed by a reader, the one on a pole next to Statue of Liberty Plaza, one of more than two dozen cameras police plan to install from Ballard to Fauntleroy (those already installed include the one in the photo above, at 63rd SW/Beach Drive). If you have questions, concerns, words of support, anything to say or ask, or if you just want to hear firsthand, be there.

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Seattle Police announce meetings for surveillance-camera feedback, starting on Alki Sat, 09 Mar 2013 06:19:09 +0000

Seattle Police have just announced the promised meetings for “thorough public vetting” – Mayor McGinn’s phrase – of their federally funded surveillance-camera network. First one is Tuesday (March 12th), 7 pm, at Alki Bathhouse; second one, 7 pm March 19th at Belltown Community Center. They’ve also set up an address for e-mail feedback: It’s been more than six weeks since we broke the news of half a dozen cameras’ installation along Alki and Harbor Avenues, Beach Drive, and Fauntleroy Way, part of a 30-camera system linked to a “wireless mesh” communication system, and two weeks since SPD indicated there would be public forums, without mentioning dates, places, times. Tonight the city’s Seattle Channel also took an closeup look at the controversy. Our coverage dating back to January 29th is archived here, newest to oldest.

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Update: Council committee discusses surveillance-policy proposal Thu, 07 Mar 2013 04:42:02 +0000 (UPDATED Thursday with clarification of proposal’s status)

(Archived Seattle Channel video of this afternoon’s committee meeting)
The City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee decided this afternoon to delay by a week its vote on a proposal to regulate how the city procures and uses surveillance systems.

The delay was attributed mostly to revisions made, and considered, via input including opinions of interested parties such as the city’s Human Rights Commission and the ACLU. Representatives of both were among those who spoke during the public-comment period that opened the committee’s meeting this afternoon; in general, most speakers said they were glad to see councilmembers acknowledge there need to be some rules and guidelines regarding how the city uses this technology. Council staffer Christa Valles made it clear that this proposal – CB 117730, as noted in our preview early Tuesday – does not set the rules for how any specific system might be used, but rather sets the parameters for what kind of rules need to be in place before a system can be planned or deployed. The Human Rights Commission’s main concern is that citizens’ “private right of action” be protected – so they can file a complaint if they are a “victim of surveillance.”

The committee also heard from citizen watchdog Phil Mocek, who has provided and sought information (including participation in WSB comment discussions) since our first report on the “waterfront” cameras that Seattle Police installed unannounced, but have not yet activated. Among other points, Mocek said that the proposed policy is important because the agencies using surveillance should not be the same ones overseeing it. Other speaking included a man who identified himself as a security/privacy/anonymity researcher and lauded the city for “leading in this type of transparency”; a man who identified himself as a drone hobbyist; and a man who expressed concern about the city’s school-zone-speed cameras (one of which is in West Seattle, near Gatewood Elementary).

SPD Assistant Chief Clark Kimerer was at the table with councilmembers and staff for the discussion, but no new details of the “port security” camera project were discussed or inquired about – aside from an agreement that if this proposal is passed, it will apply to the system, even though many of its ~30 cameras are already installed. He also acknowledged that this is precedent-setting because the department previously was responsible for policies using this kind of equipment, but now, it will be vetted by the Council.

Councilmember Licata noted that they want to work with all city departments – not just SPD. And he pointed out that “management of the data is as important as anything else.” That includes the users’ logs that will be required, pointed out Valles when Councilmember Mike O’Brien said it would be important to know who’s accessing the surveillance video. O’Brien also wondered about protocol for uses of cameras installed with other intents, like traffic cameras: “We could pretty much wind up as a city where you’re under surveillance for anything.”

There was also agreement that even the language they are working on now may be obsolete soon, as technology continues to evolve – this was pointed out by Council President Sally Clark, who was on hand though she is not an official member of the committee.

Meantime, we’re still awaiting word of public forums about the new system, for which Mayor McGinn promised a “thorough public vetting” before the green light would be given to activate it.

THURSDAY NIGHT ADDENDUM: As noted by Phil Mocek in comments, the one-week delay is actually in the planned movement of the bill from committee to full council. Often, a bill approved by a committee will go to the full council the following Monday; in this case, while the bill is still being amended, it is expected to go to the full council no sooner than March 18th, a week from Monday. You can check its status here – technically still listed as “in committee” as of this writing.

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