Many questions, some answers, in SPD’s first West Seattle briefing on surveillance cameras

(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 City’s boarders; and link the video signals to major stakeholders’ facilities, as well as to responding personnel within the mesh network coverage area.”)

*Here’s a summary sheet for the contract, which is with Longview-based Cascade Networks.

*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.

24 Replies to "Many questions, some answers, in SPD's first West Seattle briefing on surveillance cameras"

  • Joe Szilagyi February 25, 2013 (10:27 am)

    Who actually pulled the trigger and authorized the installation?

  • JJ February 25, 2013 (11:10 am)

    Alki Beach will be much safer with these installed. Thanks you!

  • Ordinary_Citizen February 25, 2013 (11:27 am)

    I have written a letter to Council member Harrell telling him to stop this surveillance society. It has to do with my 4th amendment rights and not wanting to live in a police state and be under survelliance all the time. The more I hear about this, the more troubled I get. The very invasive nature of this is terrible and Seattle Police hasn’t even talked about policy and procedure. Rather they promote it as Port of Seattle security yet Det. Monty mostly talks about viewing any area visible to him from the sidewalk. I don’t trust a private contractor controlling the cameras either. Are we going to be letting them spend $5 million on watching off-leash dog owners on the beach or tell them to send the $ back and use it for better purposes!? We can set a precedent for the country by saying no to abusive homeland security spending in the guise of “safety”. I would like to get together with the others that want to fight this.

  • sb in ws February 25, 2013 (12:10 pm)

    I think people should calm down. This is not big brother. They can’t see you in your house any more than anyone standing in the same location as the camera. The camera is across the street, correct? Someone could see more standing on the same side as your house than the camera. I would rather have the possibility that these cameras would help catch a murderer. And yes, I would feel the same if I lived down there. Wish they would put one on the lamp post by my house.

  • wetone February 25, 2013 (12:11 pm)

    Pretty amazing how Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh and Det. Monty Moss have lied and changed their story on this project from the start to everyone and continue to do so. I would also like to know how involved Mayor McGinn has been with this project ? Scary stuff going on here. With these type of people at the top of SPD and city how are we to believe and trust anything they say ? and this hurts all the good people that work for the SPD and city. The more I read about this project the worse it gets. They keep adding more people to the user list trying to justify it, except where is the Port of Seattle Police ? Maybe now even having public feeds how and where does that fit into a security network. Who will monitor this system and from what country ? I hope people realize this has little to do with Port Security, but everything to do with watching and tracking people and vehicles. Cameras do not stop crime. I would like to see an audit done on how SPD and this city has spent their 100+ mil they have got from Homeland Security. Some people need fired if they want me to regain some trust with the SPD and not re-assigned or early retirement like this city does so well. What a bad waste of 5 million dollars.

  • mike February 25, 2013 (12:26 pm)

    “Trust us”. I dont think so. The cameras need to go.

  • a February 25, 2013 (12:37 pm)

    ordinary citizen- I would love to hear you whine and complain after these cameras were used to catch someone who hurt you or a loved one. Do you really distrust those that protect us that much that you think they will use these in a negative way? I’m with sb in ws on this one. I wish would put one of these on my block. Better yet, put one on every block. Let’s doeverything in our power to catch these pieces of chit that are out there ruining it for the rest of us.

  • CE February 25, 2013 (12:52 pm)

  • Amalia February 25, 2013 (1:05 pm)

    Agree with sb and a. I don’t care if someone inadvertently sees me vaccuuming in my underwear (that’s just their bad luck!) if it means it gets a criminal caught. Aim it at my front door! I don’t intend to break the law, so it can only help me.
    I don’t really understand why people get worked up over this kind of “invasion of privacy.” I really see it as protection for law-abiding citizens. Believe me, I had ZERO support for the Bush Administration, but I wasn’t too worried about them tapping my phones. Catch the bad guys!

  • a February 25, 2013 (1:57 pm)

    CE- wow thanks for wasting ten minutes of my time. That was ten minutes of rambling nonsense that did not sway my opinion whatsoever. Are the cameras going to be perfect and never malfunction? Of course not! Are the cameras going to record crime and help put criminals behind bars? Absolutely they are and when you are at alki and someone doesn’t mug you because they know there are cameras there, you will be thankful for those cameras. I don’t know what kind of conspiracy theories you are into but that guy and his nonsense has you all paranoid. Keep watching that stuff and stay in your cave and think the government is out to get you. Better yet, just move to an island away from life.

  • Ulooksuspicioustome February 25, 2013 (2:07 pm)

    It is big brother.

    The police did not explain the camera’s zooming ability which I suspect is better than your eye. And how about that camera pointing toward the residences by Fauntleroy Way? They didn’t even considering mounting the camera on the north side of the pole?

  • Ordinary_Citizen February 25, 2013 (3:04 pm)

    @ a: I’m glad you are not a politician then. Your work would keep me very busy. It’s how our founding fathers developed our country. Checks and balances on each part. No one person should have the power to step on another person’s rights. As for my “whining and complaining” when I was attacked downtown with a camera in plain view of the perpetrator, the police did nothing to get the camera evidence. Just personal experience and regular skepticism is what I could be accused of having. Thank goodness, I still have the right to whine and complain!

  • elisaid February 25, 2013 (3:36 pm)

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

    -Benjamin Franklin

  • Citizen Sane February 25, 2013 (4:59 pm)

    Turn ’em on. ASAP.

  • Citizen Sane February 25, 2013 (5:00 pm)

    The world in 2013 will be a wild and crazy place.

    -Ben Franklin

  • Dead End Marc February 25, 2013 (6:25 pm)

    A Federally funded Homeland Security project for:
    video coverage of the Port of Seattle & Puget Sound waterway points of entry, run by the Seattle Police Department installed with almost no notice.
    However the Port has their own cameras….
    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

    Early questions elicit non-informative responses such as, “We’re working on that” and non-denial denials such as, “Not to my knowledge.”

    Further, these are clearly under the auspices of SPD, and privacy concerns alleviated by ‘permanent masking’ which may be removed by ‘someone’ in the SPD, on the fly, if circumstances warrant.

    I’m sorry… what does that mean?
    To me, that means there IS no policy, and they will make up rules as they go along AND they had to spend the $$$ before 2013 but got an extension to install a system they are sure to ‘shut down if it is misused’, with no means of an audit trail to see if that ever happens. There probably isn’t even a definition of misuse as of this printing.

    Plans for cameras near ‘Golden Gardens’ (Shilshole marina is an actual ‘point of entry’ compared to Alki) yet these plans were removed because of issues involving previous policy on surveillance cameras and city parks.
    Exactly what policy was that and why does it not apply to the tidal zone and park vs. a Marina and a park?

    I’m not sure if reporting is lacking (I doubt it), or perhaps this is the latest large boondoggle of Gov’t Executive Branch overstepping its’ mandate.

    I can sympathize with the misguided opinion, “if you aren’t doing anything illegal you don’t have anything to worry about”. Included in this is abdication of any protection for citizen’s privacy in public areas. In plain english, this is a bad idea. This is a first step on that slippery slope to someplace we ought not go.

    I think that this a big expensive mistake. We ought to be spending our precious dollars in better ways.

  • JayDee February 25, 2013 (6:51 pm)

    Again, why do we accept the explanation that this is to hopefully prevent crime or “terrorism”? They can do neither. As I have mentioned previously could these stop or prevent: A dirty bomb? Nope. A stowaway terrorist? Nope (Might show him fleeing the container yard or having a beer at Marination). A large non-radiological bomb? Nope. They will document the damage. And give the SPD a cool new toy…for free!!!

    As to the matting out: it can be turned off at will. The example was not for the cameras we have so it was Photoshopped truth (“What do you want it to show, boss?”)

    My concerns are: Privacy, the creeping police state, the acquiring of intrusive technology w/o any public insight, and the lack of discussion of the ineffectiveness/effectiveness of these cameras.

  • ivan February 25, 2013 (7:29 pm)

    Tracy, thank you so much for this coverage. You’re the best.

  • MellyMel February 25, 2013 (11:41 pm)

    The concerning part of this whole episode is the project got this far with no widespread knowledge of its existence. That was a very poor judgment call or oversight. It was *so very predictable* that surveillance issues would touch on a lot of strongly held opinions.
    Now, at what seems to be an advanced stage of the project, the community discovers its existence. As with every surveillance program, ultimately one is required to trust the judgment of those operate these cameras. But already, the launch of this program shows an exercise of poor judgment.
    Whether you are pro or con camera, certainly anyone can see this hasn’t been a model for trust-building between a community and local authorities.

  • Gman206 February 26, 2013 (12:34 am)

    The view from 20 feet above the side walk is not the view seen by a person on the side walk as stated. If someone was up there with a camera home many 911 calls would be make?

  • Orcacat February 26, 2013 (6:00 pm)

    This would be a great addition in assisting to help protect us from the growing criminal activity that is rampant in our area as well as globally. Thank you SPD for the insight. I look forward to the installations. BRAVO…

  • Honey Cat February 26, 2013 (6:09 pm)

    This will be a great addition to help citizens be protected from the growing criminal activity that is rampant in our home area as well as what is occuring globally in this time of unrest. Thank you SPD for the insight. I look forward to the installations. BRAVO…..

  • The Man February 26, 2013 (10:56 pm)

    How about putting some cameras up in downtown white center too?

Sorry, comment time is over.