(Map showing West Seattle camera locations, from SPD presentation slide deck)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One month after Seattle Police-managed, Homeland Security-funded surveillance cameras were installed, unannounced, along Alki, SPD reps came to West Seattle to talk with beach residents about the system’s intent and extent.
The Alki Community Council board requested the briefing; for those arriving at Alki UCC Thursday night, a TV crew in the lobby was the first sign the board was taking up something of citywide interest. The briefing came one day after the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee took a closer look at the program (WSB coverage here), offering citizens a chance to comment publicly for the first time since the cameras’ purpose was revealed in this January 29th WSB report.
You can listen to the entire meeting thanks to attendee Phil Mocek, who recorded and made the audio publicly available:
In addition to answering numerous questions, Det. Monty Moss, in charge of the program, suggested for the first time that there was at some point the intent to talk to the public first:
That came in response to an attendee’s mention of WSB being first to mention the Alki-and-beyond cameras – surprising even some City Council members (as Councilmember Nick Licata wrote here) – so, Det. Moss was asked, why weren’t public meetings planned before the installations?
(From left, SPD Det. Monty Moss, ACC vice president Randie Stone, president Tony Fragada)
“We could have done a better job, we didn’t, and we’re going to do a better job (of communication) going forward,” he replied. “I very much wish we had done something sooner … there were plans to do something sooner … it didn’t get done.”
About 20 people were in the Alki UCC parlor for his presentation, similar to the one given at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon. He started by explaining the 160-access-point “wireless mesh” wi-fi-type network to which the ~30 cameras are to be linked. From the slide deck:
“This network can be used for anything that is Internet-related,” he noted – smartphone, Internet phone, etc. – and it will allow police/fire vehicles to maintain their communication as they move along the network.
A question that’s been asked before was asked again: Why isn’t the Port of Seattle listed as among the partners, since this has been repeatedly described as a “port security” program? Later, Moss replied, “we (didn’t) have time to (talk to all potential partners) at the beginning,” saying that this is about more about SPD’s “water response.” And he said that he wasn’t sure whether the Port of Seattle was approached when SPD applied for the grant – though he then said the port did have representatives at Wednesday’s City Council committee meeting (they did not speak). “This is kind of an evolving thing as well.”
They and other additional partners would be welcome, he suggested: “It’s police-department-led because it’s our name on the grant, but it’s a cooperative network.” .
Said Sgt. Verner O’Quinn, identified as Det. Moss’s supervisor, the port already has its own cameras, and the SPD cameras would cover some of the areas that theirs don’t cover. But on north Harbor Island, for example, there’s no fiber that this program could use, Moss said.
The poles that were chosen for this, he explained, were chosen because of the type of power access and other attributes they have, again mentioning something he’d noted at City Hall the previous day – that the Admiral Way Viewpoint camera isn’t up yet because of a crash involving the pole they had hoped to use. (The Alki Point Lighthouse is the other not-yet-installed West Seattle camera, he said.) City Light and SDOT have been leading the installation (here’s a photo tweeted by West Seattle resident Chas Redmond on January 24th when he happened onto one of those crews on Alki):
Det. Moss said the project is “budgeted out for eight years.” He reiterated that while they are hoping to stay on track with activation March 31st, that won’t happen until they get approval (they were directed by the mayor recently – as first reported here – to not activate the cameras until a “thorough public vetting”) – but if it stretches out “for many more months, we will lose funding authority,” he said.
He showed the North Seattle locations too – one to be installed on the Magnolia Bridge with a view of the cruise-ship docks, and the two he said were installed the previous week on the Ballard Bridge along with one in Fremont. An attendee followup: “The cameras aren’t in operation, but do they have power?” Yes, some have power, “but aren’t connected to anything,” Moss said.
The privacy masking was asked about next – is it already “installed”? It’s part of the camera, and they don’t have control of the cameras right now, Moss explained. But the privacy masking can’t be removed after the fact of the recording – even if, say, a crime happened in the masked area, he said. An attendee noted that the masking was described yesterday as to be decided with the community.
Moss said he has suggested that “as soon as we turn the camera on, I want to put masking up – something up right away, maybe in red, so there is something in place, before anybody sees that camera – that can be part of the testing process to make sure that camera works. That’s my suggestion … then we’ll go back to each of the groups (and discuss permanent masking).” Would there be a community announcement when that testing begins? the attendee asked. “I don’t know,” said Moss. He said he will be applying the masking personally, “I’m taking point on that, I’m taking responsibility for that.”
He also said that the masking can be done either remotely or physically on the camera, responding to another question. Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh is the “policy maker” he referred to multiple times (here’s our detailed interview with him from early February), and beyond that, the Mayor and City Council had accountability.
He also said that a city attorney is “working through (the) issues” regarding why it’s OK to have the cameras near Alki Beach Park but not Golden Gardens Park, which were in the original plan but, as revealed yesterday, were removed because of issues involving previous policy on surveillance cameras and city parks.
As for the spacing along Alki/Harbor, he said again that fiber and other accessibility issues dictated the placement. He said they tried to stay mostly away from the Alki condo areas and the Beach Drive home areas (though all but one of the cameras installed so far are in view of residences); the camera just south of the Fauntleroy ferry dock “is because we share responsibility for protecting that area.” (Here’s a view looking southwest at that camera from upper Fauntleroy Way:)
Regarding privacy rights, Det. Moss pointed out that legally, anything visible from a public area such as the sidewalk or street has no such right. “So what are the legal restrictions guiding masking?” Det. Moss was asked. He tried to explain the difference between voyeuristically looking into a window and happening to have a view of, say, a front yard that anyone could see from the street. But the explanation still came down to “trust us,” not in those words, but in these: “They’re going to take away this whole system if we misuse it,” he said, when vowing that there would be repercussions if the cameras were ever used voyeuristically, for example, responding to the “Bikini Cam” criticism from an Alki resident at yesterday’s City Council meeting.
Sgt. O’Quinn suggested the meeting get back on topic so Moss could finish his presentation, which then went back to what the antennas and camera housing would look like – all like the ones we’ve shown in multiple WSB videos of the West Seattle installations:
The presentation also included vieo of the masking demonstration – which you can see in this video narrated by Moss and posted to SPD Blotter (we’ve cued the link to start at the point where that demonstration begins).
Moss reiterated that the draft policy calls for video to be stored for 30 days (unless it is pulled for possible crime evidence), and an audit log of who accessed the camera from where and when and how would go for 90 days. He also reiterated what was said yesterday – the cameras would cover roughly a 310-degree field of view. Each camera would also have a “home” position from which it wouldn’t divert unless controlled by someone authorized to use it, and if not actively used for a certain period of time, it would revert to that position.
“The home for Alki Beach would be toward the water?” asked one attendee.
“We’re working on that,” replied Moss.
“Couldn’t you just mask to the water in Alki, and take care of these concerns?” another attendee asked.
“We still have the right to see what’s going on on the street,” replied Moss.
“Will this mean less of a police presence on Alki because you can just see this from an office somewhere?” he also was asked.
Short version of the reply to that: No.
Another question: Will the masking be checked in day and night settings, to make sure it covers everything? Moss said he would check on that.
Can the masking be removed if a crime is in progress? Yes, but someone high up – like the police chief – would have to make that decision, and it would have to be something very serious, like “a child held hostage.”
“But we won’t know (about the masking being removed), because we can’t audit it?” pressed the attendee.
Said Sgt. O’Quinn, “There’s some talk about putting together a group that would audit it.”
He also noted that – as was mentioned in a document attached to Wednesday’s City Council agenda – there’s talk of possibly making some of the feeds public. Moss later said “there’s a balance – I don’t want the terrorists to know exactly what we have” as a reason why they wouldn’t put all the cameras online. Perhaps “we would push still images every 60 or 90 seconds,” he said, while stressing it was a “policy decision” that would made beyond his level. He reiterated that the cameras would not be continuously monitored – “we’re not going to be sitting around (watching).”
Meantime, he also pointed out the “cool functionality” that would come along with the wireless mesh aspect of the system – like the Seattle Fire Department transmitting medical data to the hospital while taking care of a patient/victim. From the slide deck:
That drew a few audible utterances of “wow” from attendees.
The cameras are made by Canon, he noted, adding that documents related to the grant, including the Request For Proposals, can be viewed on the City of Seattle Purchasing website. Here’s what we subsequently found:
*Here’s the RFP (which includes a call for “Thirty-six (36) cameras of various manufacture to view marine traffic, port facilities, and inland waterways within the Cityâ€™s boarders; and link the video signals to major stakeholdersâ€™ facilities, as well as to responding personnel within the mesh network coverage area.”)
*Here are two pages of SPD background on the system as attached to last week’s Council committee agenda
What’s next? Public forums were again mentioned as in the works, sometime in March; no dates announced yet (we are checking with SPD again today).
WSB coverage on the camera network is archived here, newest to oldest.