Followup: More about city-installed Alki surveillance cameras

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Since our first report Tuesday on the surveillance cameras that have turned up from Harbor Avenue to Beach Drive – we’ve learned more information about them, while other questions remain.

To recap, if you missed our first story:

WSB readers started noticing the cameras last weekend. We have counted six installed on utility and streetlight poles, with wireless transmitting equipment above them: On the inland side of Harbor Avenue near Salty’s and Seacrest, on the water side at Duwamish Head, on the inland side of Alki Avenue by the Shoremont Apartments (photo above), on the water side by the Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza, and on the water side at the end of Constellation Park/Richey Viewpoint, at 63rd SW and Beach Drive.

The cameras are part of a Seattle Police-led, federally funded project approved by the City Council last spring, though the discussion at City Hall mentioned only “port security,” not specific locations or numbers, and questions are circulating now regarding an online mention that the project is likely to expand far beyond “port security.”

Last spring’s discussion of the project was at the May 2, 2012, meeting of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, with its chair, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and member Councilmember Mike O’Brien present.

The agenda item’s description gave no hint to impending surveillance cameras in a recreational/residential area:

Relating to security from terrorism; authorizing the City to partner with the Port of Tacoma to receive financial assistance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office for State and Local Government Coordination and Prep aredness under the Port Security Grant Program for Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2008 (PSGP FFY ’08), authorizing an application for allocation of funds under that agreement, increasing appropriations to the Police Department in the 2012 Budget, and ratifying and confirming prior acts; all by a three-fourths vote of the City Council.

The discussion is archived on Seattle Channel video – go to that page and choose the agenda item at right for a direct link, or, in the embedded clip below, move the play bar to 76 minutes in:

The ordinance itself – approved unanimously by the City Council later – doesn’t mention cameras, but we’ve viewed the meeting video, and here’s what was said by the Seattle Police Department briefers.

The department was said to be getting a $5 million Homeland Security grant for which it had applied, for a “wireless mesh network surveillance security type of system that will basically keep an eye on the port facilities within the Port of Seattle region.” While the Ports of Tacoma and Everett were described as partners, the system was discussed in Seattle terms only, and SPD’s partners here were listed as the Seattle Fire Department and U.S. Coast Guard.

Councilmember Harrell mentioned that he had already been briefed on the project, so he was asking questions just so anyone at (or watching) the meeting could obtain some information. By “port facilities,” he asked the briefers to confirm, they meant “specifically the water.” Yes, they said, elaborating that it would be “all encompassing from the shoreline.”

“What kind of things are we worried about?” asked Councilmember Harrell.

The reply: “The threat of importing chemical, radiological, nuclear, explosive materials into a port is a very real thing.” This system would help “monitor the shoreline when heightened threat levels come up … The idea here was to strategically place video cameras around the waterfront area that monitor the shoreline and the waterway, that’s the biggest bulk of this … that information can not only be fed to first responders, but can also be sent back to department operation centers.” That, SPD said, would include the USCG monitoring vessel traffic coming into Elliott Bay.

It was also mentioned that Sound Transit and Metro Transit were “looking at” this system, since SPD said it “is able to carry quite a bit of bandwidth and they felt they could expand their system and tie into ours.”

No questions were asked about specific locations or exactly how the cameras would be used. Harrell and O’Brien both approved the ordinance; five days later, the full Council approved it in a unanimous 9-0 vote.

The information about this meeting came to us from the office of Councilmember Nick Licata, who is also a member of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, but was not present for the May 2nd meeting, though he was part of the unanimous approval vote on May 7th (once a council committee approves something, it’s not unusual for quick final action)

Licata’s staff e-mailed to let us know that they are following up with Seattle Police on some questions in turn brought to their attention by a local privacy advocate whose inquiry specifically calls out a section of an online article we linked in our first report Tuesday – quoting a Seattle Fire Department official, Lenny Roberts, as saying this will be part of a citywide network of cameras:

“… For example, take the Homeland Security/Port of Seattle Security Project. We will have surveillance cameras all along the waterfront from the ship canal to Harbor Island (bulk fuel storage) to Alki Point. During any marine or waterfront incident, these cameras can be aimed, and any view within the cameras’ range can be streamed to the incident command post. This can provide a bird’s eye view perspective as well as allow seeing three sides of the incident.
Eventually the cameras will extend throughout downtown and along the Interstate 5 corridor.
The current camera systems are part of transit and traffic control. These additional cameras will
be part of an enhanced public safety strategy. Some cameras will also have infrared capability,
which can help locate heat sources and people through smoke and darkness.”

As noted in a WSB comment, more details are being pursued via a Freedom of Information Act request, which seeks to make all available documentation public.

Meantime, we have asked Mayor McGinn‘s office multiple times for the mayor’s comment on these cameras and their planned use. So far, no comment. Our followups on this will continue.

53 Replies to "Followup: More about city-installed Alki surveillance cameras"

  • EMODIUM January 31, 2013 (12:11 pm)

    Please no Orwell or Huxley comments…this is a basic twofer, public funding has been cut and we need convictions without police having to show up to every minor disturbance and big companies want to see their merchandise leaving Seattle. Bet me that there will be tons of these cameras near the trains once Big Oil comes to town, all in the name of security, but whose?

  • G January 31, 2013 (12:18 pm)

    While I’m not crazy about “big brother” watching, I’ll feel a little safer going to my favorite restaurant, since there is a near-by restaurant that seems to attract trouble.

  • wetone January 31, 2013 (12:44 pm)

    Some people need to get fired on this one. No excuses. After watching video and what they are doing, there is some very very serious issues going on here.

  • vraxvalhalla January 31, 2013 (12:46 pm)

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

  • JWT January 31, 2013 (12:56 pm)

    Nothing a ladder can’t fix.

  • Mick T January 31, 2013 (1:04 pm)

    Really disturbing. If the govt would just be honest what there general purpose is then I could see a healthy debate for having cameras in high crime spots. However when the come right out of the gate lying about it (with cameras facing the street not water) it makes me even more uneasy about them. This cannot be any more Orwellian Emodumb.

  • BWD January 31, 2013 (1:11 pm)

    Right there with you, Emodium.
    No need for the insults Mike T. – hopefully you just made a typo.

  • Coyote January 31, 2013 (2:09 pm)

    Pellet gun?

  • Heath January 31, 2013 (2:15 pm)

    Thanks WSB, unexpected details in a great follow up. You are really one of the most useful blogs I’ve ever seen.

    I’ll reserve my comments to this. To those of you who don’t think this is a big deal and another example of our government invading your privacy…..what other rights are you willing to give up? I assume you would disarm all law abiding citizens so only criminals are armed. But would you consent to unwarranted searches of your person and property? Checkpoints? If you don’t think those are the next steps you’re blind. Government does not need to be watching us everywhere all the time. Do you really trust them to do the right things. Who is actually on the other side?

    • WSB January 31, 2013 (3:06 pm)

      Heath, just fyi since you mention it, that’s because despite the name, this is a professional, commercial, independent, journalist-owned-and-operated news service that just happens to publish in blog format. I have to say that every so often in case new readers turn up; for more than 30 years, I drew a paycheck from newspapers, radio, TV. The name is an unfortunate legacy of how we started the site two years before we morphed into a 24/7 news service in 2007. But whatever you call us, USEFUL is actually an adjective we appreciate … and we also very much appreciate reasoned discussion (on all sides) as well as the community tips that set us on this trail, and so many other stories – Tracy

  • EPanther January 31, 2013 (2:21 pm)

    Vraxvalhalla – pretty much verbatim what I said Tuesday. Thank you. This has nothing to do with the ports; the cameras are pointed to the residential areas.

    I’m glad to be aware of it, even if there is nothing I can do.

  • Pete R January 31, 2013 (2:45 pm)

    Are cameras in public places with high crime rates a good idea? Maybe, but there needs to be a public debate. The way in which this was handle can only reasonably be viewed as deliberate misleading of the public. Someone needs to be in deep trouble over this.

  • WMF January 31, 2013 (3:00 pm)

    I’m all for this. What liberties are we giving up? Is your stroll down the beach going to be different now that someone may be watching? Anything that deters the thugs down on the beach gets my approval.

  • Greg January 31, 2013 (3:04 pm)

    This is not an infringement on liberty. The law is clear, there is no expectation of privacy in public space. That was decided decades ago by the Supreme Court.

    What’s the difference between a camera and an officer standing by? If you are doing something that could be caught on camera that you wouldn’t do in front of a law enforcement officer, in public, then maybe y’all should concentrate on your own action rather than engaging in more paranoid big brother fantasies.

  • SeaChanty51 January 31, 2013 (3:09 pm)

    The easiest way to reassure citizens about what the camera is watching is to let them have access. We know the traffic cams are watching traffic because we can go look. Allow us access!

  • Heath January 31, 2013 (3:15 pm)

    Tracy, now that you mention it I knew of your background but not that you were more than a blog. To your credit I have turned many friends and neighbors into regular readers as I’m constantly asked, “how did you know that” with regards to local knowledge and now many tell me about things they read on “the blog”. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t find out something very helpful or useful from you and I hope that never changes. I’m one of those mid lifers looking to reinvent myself and journalism is something that interests me greatly. Thanks for all you do.

  • elisaid January 31, 2013 (3:24 pm)

    @WMF & Greg, this action really is the beginning of a very slippery slope. Once we become complacent about these cameras(that were advertised as a way to watch the waterways) being pointed inland, who’s to stop the powers that be from saying they need access to them for additional reasons. Next thing you know they are pointing them at private property. Just because you wouldn’t do anything in front of the cameras that you wouldn’t do in front of law enforcement, doesn’t mean that they should be accepted at face value.

  • Happy on Alki January 31, 2013 (4:07 pm)

    vraxvalhalla,I don’t know what “essential liberty” we are losing. Greg is right-on. I’ve spent nearly 60 yrs in the Alki Area and am happy that some of the abuse that goes on down here will be caught on tape.

  • Cami January 31, 2013 (4:25 pm)

    Wow. I don’t know what to think about this! Very big brother for my artsy Alki neighborhood.

  • J January 31, 2013 (4:30 pm)


  • Cami January 31, 2013 (4:54 pm)

    Looks as though the cameras rotate around 360, not just at the water but down the residential street. Not to mention the units at the Shoremont have it right outside their windows!

  • Guy January 31, 2013 (5:02 pm)

    Kiro just said they saw them being installed last week!! Please!

  • Anne January 31, 2013 (5:05 pm)

    5 pm news right now say the cameras were installed on the wrong side of the poles & are being reinstalled right now. They will rotate but spokesman says views other than authorized will be “masked”

  • Howie Martin January 31, 2013 (5:07 pm)

    Attention all readers: Tracy Record is a first-class news professional, if you didn’t know.

  • William January 31, 2013 (5:14 pm)

    We are all for the security cameras! We don’t see an issue with it and besides security cameras are everywhere. It’s silly to say they are an invasion of privacy – they are installed outside in public areas. We experienced a car prowl recently and wish there were more security cameras around West Seattle to provide better tools for law enforcement to follow-up and for the monitoring of illicit activities.

  • Thug Paranoia January 31, 2013 (5:18 pm)

    The thugs will be happy. The doggie walkers who let their dear little pets crap on the sidewalk will be sad. Other than that, POLICE STATE. lol

  • LincolnPark January 31, 2013 (5:22 pm)

    Didn’t see Fauntleroy mentioned… noticed something new on a white pole by the stop light at the Lincoln Park south end parking lot. Is that also a surveillance camera?

  • JayDee January 31, 2013 (6:09 pm)

    1. Where was the public process? It was mis-represented in the council meetings, and was not identified as a public surveillance network.
    2. I guess they will only be operational in case of emergency, right? And the records destroyed after 30/60/360 days. We don’t know.
    3. Combined with software they can scan license plates, recognize your face, and…I use Microsoft products and we all know that software wouldn’t make any mistakes, right?
    4. Who is watching, and why?
    5. I looked at the installations, and in most cases, the cameras are mounted so they can video the water, but with a 360 pivot they will only miss 70-80 degrees where the pole is.
    6. Let’s shed some sunlight on this federal freebie and see what rats run for cover. Because, if they have nothing to hide…?

  • Happy on Alki January 31, 2013 (6:23 pm)

    Hopfully the guys and gals won’t be peeing in the sand as much. I see my grand kid digging and playing and wonder what they are uncovering.
    I just returned from Home Depot, no less than 6 camera on the front of the building, on the racks at eye level and all around the pay stations. Go to the bus tunnel. Look around. CHILL OUT,there are real issues we should worry about.

  • Phil M. January 31, 2013 (7:03 pm)

    Please think of the big picture, everyone. Do you want to live in a place where your government monitors your every move once you step foot outside your home? I don’t. Cameras on every utility pole, which is what we’ll have once their cost drops if we let this continue, are quite different than a few hundred police officers driving around.

    Study after study shows that blanketing public spaces with cameras does not reduce crime rates.

    Even if you think the cameras are a good idea, I hope you’re concerned at the way they were sneaked in with a complete lack of public process. Seattle Police staff have repeatedly made their lack of respect for our liberties—their disdain for them, really—clear. We shouldn’t tolerate this.

  • me January 31, 2013 (7:33 pm)

    As I said in the other thread, and now saying it here, with the hope it may cause some to pause an think…. Some people are so tied up in their self absorbed lives and are so concerned about “now”, they lack the foresight to see that everything we do now, or don’t do, will affect the future of our society. The fight to protect and maintain our Liberties, Freedoms and Rights is not for the benefit of you or me, it is for our kids and their kids.

  • West Seattle luv January 31, 2013 (7:59 pm)

    I’m all for the cameras! Alki is not a great place in the summer. I’ve got nothing to hide when I step out in PUBLIC. And if your going to do something naughty in the house close the blinds – cameras and passing neighbors don’t need to see what your up to in your house.

  • JayDee January 31, 2013 (8:05 pm)

    The main point is:

    1. Let SPD or the Port present the case why this represents an public good.

    2. Let the citizens whose liberty is being surrendered determined if the public good outweighs the loss of liberty even on such an incremental scale. As they say this will extend through downtown (really? where?). Let the advocates prove it.

    3. If the citizens vote for it, directly or through the Council (whose first vote was a rubber stamp and not democracy) then let it be.

    I am not convinced that post-911 that the cameras would solve anything. We had video of airplanes crashing into the Trade Center. Would more video help? We have undocumented folk running amok around containers? Would more video help? No. They were caught. We have gypsy moth larvae…would more video help? No. They are too small.

    If these cameras are meant to surveil the public, specify which crimes will be prevented. If they are not prevented, then why would 360 degree coverage help? More cameras would help to…prevent a drunken brawl/shooting at Bamboo? Not likely. More cops would, but the last camera is at 59th and Alki — long shot (to 63rd and Bamboo).

    Prove to us why we need cameras and not more cops. I would pay for cops.

  • Heath January 31, 2013 (8:34 pm)

    Me, I’m glad you get it.

  • LongtimeResident January 31, 2013 (9:10 pm)

    There is ample documentation from other U.S. cities of such cameras being aimed and zoomed in on people’s windows peeping Tom-style by those who control and monitor them. All I can say is that I hope they enjoy their super-duper closeup views of our bikini-clad sunbathers this summer.

  • Mick T January 31, 2013 (9:23 pm)

    Come on people! Port Security??? They lie to you and then you defend them? They even lied to our city council people anout their intent. This is not how America is suppose to roll. Not even close.

  • Truthizwurscrewed January 31, 2013 (10:56 pm)

    People might want to recall that there have been some pretty horrible crimes in the recent past here in WS along the water front. A “random” shooting of two young people one night by some gang banger out to prove himself “worthy” to join a gang, and then there was the “random?” murder of a woman near meekwamooks last year. I don’t like the idea of loosing my “right” to privacy either, but considering that our shore line is actually vulnerable to being intruded by terrorists AND that ocassionally the cameras might help solve a crime like the ones mentioned above I guess Im not too upset that they’re going in.

  • HP January 31, 2013 (11:21 pm)

    The problem is, cameras won’t prevent the crime. All they can do is record the incident for later review. They can’t apprehend a thief, or control a fight. Actual patrols during busy times can make the real difference. The cameras are a BS excuse and lazy police work after the fact of a crime.

  • Truthizwurscrewed February 1, 2013 (12:11 am)

    Well with “real time” transmitters they potentially could be used to stop a crime in progress. Also want people to consider a large foreign container ship anchored in the bay with who knows who on board. Middle of a moonless night and a few of them climb into a raft or row boat and land it on the beach. Bet you’d wish someone was watching at that time. Oh and, yes, this exact senario has happened before here in WS..just saying

  • RachaelB February 1, 2013 (12:21 am)

    Not so much lazy police work as it seems to be saving the county money by not having police on patrol. The first step in that was taking the 2nd officer out of each car. Now we have red light cameras and speed zone cameras so the police don’t even have to enforce traffic laws. It feels to me as if the intent is to let the crime happen and send the fine through the mail later on. Okay… lazy police work. Land of the free? ‘Tis a pity.

  • Phil February 1, 2013 (7:38 am)

    Most crime that is deterred by cameras will simply be moved outside their view.

    Following are links to printed materials I provided to Seattle City Council’s Parks Committee on February 18, 2009 (specifically in regard to the surveillance cameras Mayor Nickels sneaked into Cal Anderson Park):

    * “S.F. public housing cameras no help in homicide arrests,” by Heather Knight, Chronicle Staff Writer, Tuesday, August 14, 2007,
    * “CCTV ‘not a crime deterrent’,” Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK,
    * “CCTV ‘fails to reduce crime’,” Friday, 28 June, 2002, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK,
    * “ACLU: What Criminologists and Others Studying Cameras Have Found,” June 25, 2008, and
    * “THE SCOTTISH OFFICE CENTRAL RESEARCH UNIT CRIME AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE RESEARCH FINDINGS No 30; The Effect of closed circuit television on recorded crime rates and public concern about crime in Glasgow,”
    * “CITRIS study on SF public cameras released,” and
    * “CCTV CAMERA EVALUATION; The crime reduction effects of public CCTV cameras in the City of Philadelphia, PA installed during 2006,” February, 2008,

  • Amber February 1, 2013 (9:38 am)

    @ Coyote – That’s not even needed. From the picture, the install is way sloppy – look at all those cables dangling out there between the camera and the transmitter. Pruning saw, or high winds.

  • wetone February 1, 2013 (12:41 pm)

    So true JayDee, could not agree more. Very good real info Phil. One more very bad waste of goverment money from our city under false pretense and on the down low. Got a good laugh yesterday as city light was turning some of the cameras around so they face the water, as they were installed facing the wrong way ? Like I said in earlier post, must have same city people involved on this project as the New South Seattle Transfer Station.

  • brian February 1, 2013 (1:50 pm)

    Anyone who thinks that adding multitudes of cameras in public spaces will curb criminal behavior need only look at what has happened in the UK over the last decade.

    It doesn’t work.

  • S February 1, 2013 (2:05 pm)

    Welcome to the emerging police state, brought to you by the Department of Homeland Security.

    It’s not about port security, although that is certainly an valid issue; it’s really about monitoring and controlling the Civilian population who are considered by the DHS as terrorist threats.

    See that cyclist riding around Alki, he/she MAY have a b-0-m-b.

    Why else would there be cameras along the I-5 corridor as mentioned?

    Our tax dollars working to enslave ourselves. Wonderful.

  • H February 1, 2013 (3:10 pm)

    S, you are spot on. Careful using the B word online, NSA is watching. Too bad more people don’t getting it.

  • JayDee February 1, 2013 (5:47 pm)

    “Children: Can you spell C-a-r-n-i-v-o-r-e? I knew you could.”

    From Mr. Roberts’ Surveillance Neighborhood, 2015…

  • Catsup on Liberty Fries February 1, 2013 (5:49 pm)

    Please. Don’t tell me the City of Seattle will catch me attacking people who put catsup on their hot dogs. Mustard only. Catsup on Liberty Fries is OK, though.

  • Jeff platt February 1, 2013 (9:56 pm)

    They keep it secrect and talk about it only after its up
    The port of seattle excuse is laughable
    Spd is lame at what they do and i think this is a prime example

  • gatewooder February 2, 2013 (10:42 am)

    These cameras are a good thing. Alki Ave/beach is a public area that attracts some not very nice folks looking for trouble on a fairly regular basis, this should help. I don’t understand why some people think there is a vast conspiracy going on, they might try enhanced aluminum foil beanies with extended rims – that way not only the mind control rays will be stopped, it will also protect them visually on the cams.

  • LongtimeResident February 3, 2013 (1:48 pm)

    I’ve been looking at our nearest camera with my binoculars and am certain that if these cameras have powerful zoom optics as has been reported, some pervert in a dark room could be watching my wife and I as I type this. If the sexual ethics Secret Service agents and 4-star generals cannot be trusted, why should we assume that those watching these cameras will not turn into “Rear Window” type voyeurs. We pay a lot of rent for the view we have. Do we have to pull the shades and eliminate that view to keep unknown camera minders from watching us? I can see the camera from where I sit, so I am sure it will be able to see me, too. (They may find my wife more interesting.) And one more thing: I notice from the location map that the entire Gold Coast million-dollar condo stretch of Alki has zero cameras. ZERO.

  • da man February 13, 2013 (7:50 am)

    all of you people complaining about this should be going to council meetings, writing your elected officials, and trying to do something about it, rather than merely voicing your opinions here.
    just my opinion.
    i don’t have an issue with the cameras. i have an issue that these were presented as ‘maritime security’, but clearly the cameras have another intent in mind. The City of Seattle was probably concerned we would all blog about this if they told it to us straight.

  • Rod February 16, 2013 (7:13 am)

    Regarding Greg’s and WMF’s observations about cameras vs law enforcement officers I am okay with police on the street but who is behind the cameras zeroing in on couples on the beach having a snuggle and a few kisses or your children playing on the beach. We know a police officer to see one and they know because they are visible to the public how to behave and what actions they can legally take. We don’t know who is watching us and our children through the camera lens. To me it is important to know how these individuals are screened for the job. As Greg said “The law is clear, there is no expectation of privacy in public space.” Maybe we need to take a new look at that law. Decades ago this was not a big issue but with the huge technological advances in recent years it has become a huge privacy issue specially if the camera’s are monitoring private citizens on private property. Cameras at the cargo docks I have no problem with but monitoring private citizens at the beach and on their property for no apparent reason I disagree with.

    I agree with SeaChanty51 let the citizens have access to watch the watchers. Keep an eye on where they train the cameras.

Sorry, comment time is over.