UPDATE: Never-used Seattle Police surveillance cameras, wireless-mesh network being removed, starting today in West Seattle

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We have a few followup questions including what will be done with the equipment – which Erb points out is far out-of-date now anyway – and how much the removal is costing; we’ll add that information when we get it.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

58 Replies to "UPDATE: Never-used Seattle Police surveillance cameras, wireless-mesh network being removed, starting today in West Seattle"

  • Daniel January 29, 2018 (11:48 am)

    Seems like these cameras might’ve made sense downtown like they have in London.. but in rec areas? Odd placement.

    • cjboffoli January 29, 2018 (12:08 pm)

      Right. Because violent crimes never happen along Alki.  

      • Guy Olson January 29, 2018 (1:04 pm)

        Violent crimes on Alki are actually pretty rare. I’ve seen some of your salty comments lately, you ok?

  • Kathleen January 29, 2018 (12:05 pm)

    I had no idea they were there. Too bad they weren’t used to get images of the hundreds of hot rodders that scream through the 63rd & Alki intersections every weekend night. 

  • Jeremiah January 29, 2018 (12:07 pm)

    I wonder what the equipment and installation/removal cost the taxpayers?

  • newnative January 29, 2018 (12:09 pm)

    /sigh your tax  $$ at work. 

  • chemist January 29, 2018 (12:44 pm)

    I’d be OK if they re-deployed these in city-owned parking lots and near dog parks.

  • LeSigh January 29, 2018 (12:48 pm)

    $$ —> FLUSH

  • David January 29, 2018 (1:27 pm)

    This is why big cities never experience innovation like we get in technology companies like Amazon, Apple and Google.  Too many people assuming the worst so it never gets turned on.  If Google tried to start getting public approval first it would have never gotten off the ground.

  • Jon Wright January 29, 2018 (1:43 pm)

    Once upon a time, I was virulently anti-surveillance. Civil liberties and all that stuff. But as sociopathic behavior becomes more prevalent–whether it is assault, theft, vandalism, or bad driving–I have come to realize that all that stuff is a much bigger threat to the welfare of my family than the supposed loss of freedom on account of there being cameras everywhere. So I am now strongly in favor of the city deploying whatever technology they can to deter crime and catch offenders. I hope the city tries again (albeit with the proviso that they need to engage with the public and let us know what they are up to BEFORE they do it).

    • Also John January 29, 2018 (3:03 pm)

      @Jon….  I agree!  I follow the rules and I have no problem with these cameras following me around or making a ‘sociopath’ think twice about their actions knowing there’s a camera filming them.

    • Jethro Marx January 29, 2018 (3:28 pm)

      Sociopathic behavior is not up; I think you would need to have an increase in sociopaths to effect that, for one, and those numbers are going to be pretty steady since the dawn of mankind. Since some portion of sociopaths now have access to treatment, and some smaller portion of those engage with treatment, and some portion find it helps to manage their symptoms, sociopathic behavior is actually decreasing in some small way.

       If you mean crime is up, that’s harder to parse, but I have not seen a credible report in many years that indicates violent crime is increasing. Even a modicum of research finds that crime in Seattle, at least, is not on the rise.

      It’s easy to think it is in an anecdotal sense, but that is probably a result of those who sell us news knowing that we are drawn to the grotesque and violent incidents that are so rare yet so hard to look away from. See “if it bleeds, it leads.”

       If you just mean stuff you don’t like happens more often than you’d like it to, I guess you’ll just have to make peace with that.

      • Seattlite January 29, 2018 (4:04 pm)

        Sociopathic behavior is more prevalent especially low-level  and mid-level sociopathic behavior. Studies are worthless because so many sociopaths are skillful liars.  Low-level sociopathic behavior is all around you.

        • Jethro Marx January 29, 2018 (5:02 pm)

          I guess it’s good that I used logic to try my proof rather than studies, as far as sociopathy. I’m not sure how you define your terms, but it sounds like by “low-level sociopathic behavior” you mean “stuff people do that I don’t like/wouldn’t do myself.”

           I don’t know if a sociopath has levels to their behavior; it’s more of a binary condition. Maybe you’re thinking of plain old criminal behavior?

          • Seattlite January 29, 2018 (7:40 pm)

            There are several levels of sociopathic behavior ranging from pathological liars to serial killers. Sociopaths have no conscience  or remorse for the terrible things they do to humans or animals.  I’m sure everyone knows someone who has displayed sociopathic behavior…even bullying can be deemed as sociopathic behavior especially when the bully has no conscience or remorse for deeply hurting someone. People with a conscience can understand when they’ve been bad, feel remorse for their actions and then correct their behavior…sociopaths cannot.

    • Bradley January 29, 2018 (6:02 pm)

      Those cameras weren’t put up to monitor “sociopathic behavior”. They were put up to watch you, me, and everyone else. SPD ignores open drug dealing, public drug use, illegal parking, illegal camping, etc. What makes you think they or the Port Police would care about what they see criminals doing on those cameras?

    • Grocerylist January 30, 2018 (8:39 am)

      He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.

  • momosmom January 29, 2018 (2:42 pm)

    Yes I remember when this subject 1st came up 5 yrs. ago and there were numerous people against it…our privacy…the “man” spying on us…and my comment then and still now “if you are doing nothing wrong/illegal then what is the problem”? 

    • Phil Mocek January 30, 2018 (11:57 am)

      Momosmom wrote, “If you are doing nothing wrong/illegal then what is the problem?” 

      The problem is that we should be left alone to go about our lawful business without our every public move recorded and stored away in case it is useful against us someday.

      Since you have nothing to hide, MM, you won’t mind posting your passwords to all of your e-mail accounts here for us to look through and post anything interesting, will you?  You’ve no curtains on your home’s windows, right?  Love letters and medical records all sent around on postcards, right?  You share all those personal details with your parents, partner, kids, etc., right?  Not doing anything wrong, so nothing to hide, right?

  • credmond@mac.com January 29, 2018 (4:06 pm)


    There are implications for observing private individuals in public spaces which none of you have considered – read this thesis on how such observations alter behavior and not necessarily for the good [as in, if everyone is inhibited, is anyone actually presenting their real selves, even in a festival setting?]

  • Gatewood January 29, 2018 (4:43 pm)

    Don’t we have two unsolved murders from Alki,  Greggette and a young guy killed last May?  Those cameras could have helped.

    • WSB January 29, 2018 (4:49 pm)

      There was no camera anywhere near Beach Drive, where Greggette Guy was found dead in the Emma Schmitz Memorial Overlook vicinity. The Alki shooting last year that killed Jordan D. Thomas was in the vicinity of the one that was near Statue of Liberty Plaza. However, police said they had no plans to record with the cameras.

  • PigeonRidge Ben January 29, 2018 (5:28 pm)

    The Federal Government appears to be investigating a nationalized, government created and operated WiFi network. I’ve long hoped Seattle would create a municipal broadband service but having the likes of Jeff Sessions accessing my internet habits; political, religious, social, sexual… It may be that there is nothing illegal going on but some of it might be of interest to someone. What is the saying about absolute power? I’m glad these cameras are coming down. Their presence never made me feel safer, if anything they made me feel worse about our city and society. I really appreciate our law enforcement personnel and am glad to contribute to increase their numbers, training and equipment but I don’t want to live in a city or society where people are forced to go about their day under surveillance as if their eventual guilt is assumed.

  • Vanessa January 29, 2018 (5:35 pm)

    5 million dollars, plus…… What a horrible waste of money. Except for the installers and and the camera company. Grrrr.

  • d January 29, 2018 (5:41 pm)

    Never used?  Not true.  I was sued by the city based on evidence collected in 2013 where they wire tapped a person’s cell phone through one of these devices mounted at Pioneer Square to try and prove he was working for me.  They were trying to get me to garnish wages that never existed.  It turned out they (willfully) misunderstood the guy’s conversation with a third party and were never able to prove their false assertions.  The frivolous case cost me tens of thousands to defend. I am glad to see this system finally go, but I am sure they just replaced it with more modern devices.

    • Swede. January 29, 2018 (10:20 pm)

      That’s an interesting claim. Have you provided evidence to let’s say ACLU of this? Since that would prove unlawful surveillance of citizens they ‘might’ want to know…

    • Phil Mocek January 31, 2018 (11:14 am)

      D, Seattle had a pilot program with cameras installed in Pioneer Square several years before this port-security-grant-funded program that landed wireless access points and cameras on Alki Beach, at a few points around Puget Sound, along Rainier Avenue, and all over downtown.

      For more on that, see my 2013 interview of Monty Moss from SPD:

      Mocek: “So is there a separate log for, say, the Pioneer Square cameras?”
      Moss: “We don’t have any cameras in Pioneer Square.”
      Mocek: “I read that that was done several years ago. There was a problem with them turning–“
      Moss: “Pilot project.”
      Mocek: “Okay, so those are not up any more?”
      Moss: “No.”

  • Bradley January 29, 2018 (6:03 pm)

    Good news…..and good riddance.

  • 1994 January 29, 2018 (8:23 pm)

    There is no privacy anymore, your cell phone and fit bit have you under constant surveillance.  

  • Swede. January 29, 2018 (10:23 pm)

    At almost $5400 per camera that’s a good couple of days work for ‘Prime Electric’! But the real thief’s are the manufacturer of them at $180000 each! That’s gotta be some good optics in them right. 

  • CJ January 29, 2018 (10:25 pm)

      sorry folks, only law abiding citizens  pay fines and only if they have to.

  • John Q Lincoln January 30, 2018 (6:35 am)

    Now if we could just do something about those speed trap cameras as well!

    • Swede. January 30, 2018 (9:14 am)

      Those only exists in school zones and should stay there. You should just not speed there, killing children with your car is frowned up on you know. 

      • John Q Lincoln January 30, 2018 (4:04 pm)

        Oh really?  I thought they were just a money grab by the city.  

  • Mickymse January 30, 2018 (10:19 am)

    As always, what I find interesting is how everyone freaks out and catastrophizes “the government” doing something that everyone seems to shrug over when private individuals and businesses do it. I see so many social media posts now with folks showing video from their doorsteps/porches or surveillance outside private businesses or car dash cameras. The proposal was never for scary agents in a dark room to be sitting around watching you all day, but to have video to go back and review if and when a crime occurred in popular public areas around the city. And I still trust the government with my privacy far more than I trust any private corporation.

    • Phil Mocek January 30, 2018 (11:59 am)

      Micky, many of us object no matter who is doing it.  But only the government has authority to enforce policy with force.  Only the government is going to lock people in jail.  Only the government is going to secretly blacklist someone so he or she cannot travel or can only do so with significant imposition.  The list goes on and on.  When government entities infringe on our liberties, it is often more dangerous than when a private entities do so.

  • Phil Mocek January 30, 2018 (11:53 am)

    This describes removal of cameras.  There were a few dozen of those installed.  What about the other 150-or-so mesh nodes that were installed without cameras?

    see also: Map of the network, created and maintained by Seattle Privacy Coalition.

    • WSB January 30, 2018 (12:04 pm)

      Our IT contact said the whole thing is coming down. Pardon me for being very West Seattle-centric in my writing. When we went around yesterday looking at the poles where the installations had been, the equipment had been removed in their entirety (and we had done so much photography of them in our early coverage – plus seen them firsthand over the ensuing years and wondered what eventually would happen – that we could verify visually it was all gone). West Seattle was first in line for removal.

  • CitizenKane January 30, 2018 (3:31 pm)

    Phil Mocek. I have to ask again: what is your issue??. I have yet to read your rants about all the video’s from homes that show streets, sidewalk’s etc. Give us your PROOF that nothing “bad” comes from these-it’s all innocent.  Do you have link’s to all the comment’s you’ve made about all the evil home and business owners?? The message I hear from you is that if the “government” is watching you it’s pure evil and bad but anybody else that watches you or tapes you is AOK. In my book you can’t have it both way’s.

  • Realist January 30, 2018 (3:50 pm)

    I get a real kick out of people talking about the evil government/police watching us. When I see all the video’s on TV and internet taken by homeowners, businesses and people videoing with their phones I NEVER read anything from these people.  Can you provide us with PROOF that all these video’s are OK. and  they’re all innocent? Just wondering.  

  • momosmom January 30, 2018 (4:24 pm)

    @PhilMochek, post my email passwords??? yeah OK…these cameras aren’t looking at my email accounts and no I do not have curtains up in my home and we have 8 windows I will not live in fear and paranoia and yes anything personal I do share with my family…if you have love letters that you are hiding from your love ones then that sounds like a personal problem to me . And anyways we’re not talking mailings, email accounts…we’re talking security cameras.

    • Phil Mocek January 31, 2018 (11:21 am)

      Momosmom, I’ll ask you the same question you posed earlier:  If you are doing nothing wrong/illegal then what is the problem?

      There are plenty of good reasons to avoid sharing details of our lives besides “I am doing something wrong and/or illegal and thus want not to share these details.”

      My phone calls, like those of most people, are rather boring.  That makes me no more accepting of the idea that I might be required to share with our government information about whom I spoke with, when we spoke, and what we said.  Same goes for information about my travels.

      I don’t want our government recording everything we do whenever we leave the shelter of our homes.

  • jack January 30, 2018 (4:48 pm)

    “Why should I care about those cameras when I’m not doing anything wrong.”

    No. You will no longer be making that call.  You local friendly observant Government will make that decision for you.

    • Jon Wright January 30, 2018 (10:19 pm)

      They’ll get to that right after Obama confiscates everybody’s guns.

  • Oldnative January 31, 2018 (3:37 pm)

    Interesting.  The “government/police” camera haters have no reply to the people asking why they’re not calling out homeowners/businesses that have cameras watching sidewalks/street’s etc. Their video’s are awfully clear. What exactly are you people against??

    • Phil Mocek February 1, 2018 (1:24 pm)

      I can speak only for myself.

      I oppose, among other things, centralized monitoring and analysis of the locations and movements of presumed-innocent people by law enforcement agencies, by intelligence agencies, or by governmental entities who must or simply will share information with police or spies.

      What a private entity does on their own property is almost entirely out of my control. However, I cling to the belief that I *do* have some control over the actions of our public servants. I hope that my neighbors who choose to record public goings-on for their own purposes will maintain those recordings under their own control, selectively sharing them on an as-needed basis *when they choose to do so*, rather than sharing their recordings–recordings of where I have been, when I went there, and with whom I associate–wholesale with our government in a Stasi-style system of snooping on each other.

      A police officer occasionally patrolling the neighborhood is one thing. A police officer permanently assigned to every street corner is another–it’s not a practical reality, and I believe most people would oppose it if it was proposed for their neighborhood. A computerized system of police cameras on every corner, collecting, combining, correlating, indexing, and otherwise analyzing that information–at a scale that is simply impossible for humans to achieve without computerized processing–is an Orwellian nightmare.

  • Jack February 1, 2018 (7:08 am)

    If memory serves me right one of the biggest concerns was, are these cameras peering into the windows of the near by homes?  We were told that they were strictly for Port of Seattle security, as in some sort of Isis attack or something and they weren’t looking into people’s homes.  

    As far as Home and Business security cameras go, they are there to prevent crime or at least record it for solving, identifying and prosecuting criminal behavior.  Yes, cameras will pick up more information than needed as in sidewalks and streets, but it’s perfectly legal to do that anyway.   

    What irks people I think is that the Port’s  cameras recordings would be stored in some bunker data base 500 feet below NSA headquarters and available to any Government agency, or something like that.

    Home/business security camera recordings, whether 27/7 or trigered, are yours (on your personal hard drive or a security company’s server) and not available to any third party without your permission or at least a Court Order and Subpoena.  You are also free to put them up on YouTube if you like.

  • Aguy February 1, 2018 (3:47 pm)

    Phil and Jack. If you, or a family member were the victim  of a crime and the only way to identify the bad guy was one of these “government” camera’s am I correct in assuming you would DEMAND  that it be disregarded as you would rather see the bad guy get away with the crime than be caught with a government/police camera. 

    • jack February 1, 2018 (5:36 pm)

      No.  For one, we were told these cameras were never active other than tests from what I know.  What you are saying is a hypothetical and with a hypothetical I could imagine the opposite and give it to you if I had the time.  Lobby for City wide cameras if you want, that’s your right.  Then again, watch the Super Bowl on Sunday and watch the multiple cameras zeroed in on the action and hear the different opinions on what just happened.

    • Phil Mocek February 2, 2018 (10:03 am)

      Aguy:  No, I would not.  Those hypothetical recordings would be public record.  Instead, I am demanding that our government not make recordings of presumed-innocent people going about our lawful business.  I strongly believe that the risks outweigh the potential benefits of surveillance by our government of the general public.

      It is simply unacceptable for our government to record where we go, when we go there, and with whom we travel or assemble, without specific reason to investigate the target of the recording and judicial approval of the request to perform surveillance.

  • Scott A February 2, 2018 (7:11 am)

    This report reminded me of the SPD drone meeting I attended in October 2012 – just a few months before WSB’s initial January 2013 report about these cameras.  Taken together it’s understandable that citizens had (and still have) privacy concerns.  SPD was the worst possible agency of the city to try to introduce drones even if for reasonable uses.  Between the cameras and this drone meeting there’s a case study for a grad student to prepare a paper on.  Even if Seattle Fire or the Port, SDOT or Seattle Public Utilities introduced drones it would’ve been better than SPD especially SPD edition 2012.

    In case the link below doesn’t described what happened at the Garfield Community Center – SPD reps were basically shouted down and not able to even present the drone technology.  Probably OK given how badly SPD botched the attempted roll out.


    • Phil Mocek February 2, 2018 (9:55 am)

      Scott:  I, too, attended the meeting you described (a presentation by representatives of Seattle Police Department made at Garfield Community Center in the Central District neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, on Thursday, October 25, 2012, about their program of unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones.)   I recorded most of it, and that recording is published for anyone to review.  I found the yelling to be annoying and unfortunate at the time.  In retrospect, I think it was effective.  I cannot count the number of news articles nationwide that refer to Seattle residents showing up to say NO DRONES after their police secretly purchased them.

      See also: video of  Seattle City Council Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, February 6, 2013, Police Drone Authorization Bill.

  • LDJ February 16, 2018 (7:27 am)

    I feel they should be used in high crime areas like 16th Ave SW. Cars have been stolen and car prowlers are also rampant. Hopefully they would be able to see who the repeat offenders are and arrest these dirt bags. 

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