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We have a few followup questions including what will be done with the equipment – which Erb points out is far out-of-date now anyway – and how much the removal is costing; we’ll add that information when we get it.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