WSB Q/A with the mayor, #2: Will SPD’s surveillance cameras ever be turned on?

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?)

12 Replies to "WSB Q/A with the mayor, #2: Will SPD's surveillance cameras ever be turned on?"

  • chuck & sally's van man March 24, 2014 (7:38 pm)

    I truly appreciate his measured, thoughtful approach. Technology for technology’s sake is a scary path to tread, to be sure. Granted, the last mayor passed the buck without action and this one seems no more willing to do the “vetting,” but he also doesn’t appear anxious to flip the switch without doing so. That’s very good news to hear. As for his mention of the Boston Marathon, it’s good to remember that while helpful in catching the murderers post-event, it did NOTHING to prevent it. That is all.

  • Shadowtripper March 24, 2014 (8:38 pm)

    Hold on a minute! Today, Monday3/24, I just finished a walk from 63rd to the lighthouse and passed by 5 or 6 groups of young persons smoking pot and hanging out along the rocks and in their cars. Maybe we need a few more camera’s to allow surveillance prior to and after the gunfire this summer.
    Last summer the pot smoking was subdued but with the new government acceptance of pot it seems to be out in the open with more people attracted to the “views” off Beach Drive. This side of Alki seems to be the place to park, drink and smoke.

  • WSreader March 24, 2014 (9:47 pm)

    As much as I appreciate the careful approach I’m concerned about this throwing away of money by the government. They should’ve gotten the use approval before wasting our tax dollars in putting them up. I’m betting that even a Homeland Security grant money came indirectly from our tax dollars.

  • Phil Mocek March 25, 2014 (12:15 am)

    The only record of summary or analysis of the so-called thorough public vetting of SPD’s DHS-funded public surveillance network that was known to exist was some notes taken by Paul McDonagh at SPD Special Ops that he acknowledged publicly in response to my question to him at the Belltown Community Center, then destroyed. I filed a request for any such records, and after four months of searching, SPD turned up nothing.

    I have requested and received multiple drafts of both SPD’s policy for their use of their system and the city ordinance they proposed for City Council to authorize their use of it.

    • WSB March 25, 2014 (12:30 am)

      Thanks, Phil. On first read through those files, they all seem to be from last year, though the final “fulfillment” as they put it was just this month – or did I miss something new?

  • Phil Mocek March 25, 2014 (7:49 am)

    I filed both requests in November. After months of delay, the first informative responses came in February and March.

  • 935 March 25, 2014 (9:39 am)

    They’re probably already recording. They (and yes-that would be the conspiracy “They”) are lying to you.

  • Phil Mocek March 25, 2014 (10:19 am)

    Also of potential interest to readers of this story: Last fall, five months after various surveillance equipment protocols were due by law to City Council, and having seen no indication that any had been submitted, I requested all such protocols from City Council. After months of delay, they provided one document and withheld in full the two others they located.

    So I requested the administrative tracking file for that request. E-mails provided in response a couple weeks ago reveal that City Council were taking direction from police on what the public should be allowed to see and what should be hidden from us. I wrote about it in great detail.

  • Bob March 25, 2014 (11:23 am)

    Not that I am truly advocating it, but I would be interested in a citizen experiment if someone were to shoot these devices with a paint gun (it would not damage the devices, and the paint used in these guns washes away pretty easily).

    It would be interesting to see how quick of a response there would be from the powers-that-be to come and clean these…..

  • wetone March 25, 2014 (12:56 pm)

    Funny Bob, I was thinking the same thing or one up cut the power and see how quickly they hook them back up. If this system is not being used in anyway wouldn’t you think they would take it down and store them inside for later use and protection ? It would only take a few days to terminate ends and pull system down. Now their putting palm trees and artwork in cameras view path of water… they will have to move them anyway :)

  • Phil Mocek March 25, 2014 (2:30 pm)

    Bob: Somebody asked SPD staff at one of their show-and-tell sessions if raising a helium balloon coated with double-sided adhesive tape to one of those cameras would be cause for police action. The answer was “no.”

    See also: Camover

  • CE March 25, 2014 (6:40 pm)

    Thanks Phil, for sticking with this and all the work you do. Noticed also that you requested information about the drones, which it looks like were never sent back as stated. Read this first at RT.

Sorry, comment time is over.