West Seattle, Washington
(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We have a few followup questions including what will be done with the equipment – which Erb points out is far out-of-date now anyway – and how much the removal is costing; we’ll add that information when we get it.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.”
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?)
(UPDATED 10:21 am with information on when City Council’s likely to get proposed surveillance policies)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When last we checked in on our area’s seven Seattle Police surveillance-cameras-in-waiting five months ago, which was four months after observant WSB readers helped bring their existence (and that of more than 20 other cameras) to light, they were awaiting a mayor/City Council green light.
Before that, policies had to be drafted and approved, by order of the council.
As we have been told every time we’ve asked since then, they’re not ready yet (but – see the update at story’s end – apparently will be, by early December).
But questions and concerns about the system have just resurfaced – this time, not because of the cameras themselves, but because of the “wireless mesh” wi-fi-type network that they are linked to, and its potential for a different kind of surveillance/tracking. The gear for this is visible next to each of the camera housings, though in some areas of the city, it is installed without a camera. This is what it looks like:
(61st/Alki; WSB photo taken Wednesday)
It’s part of a wi-fi-type communications network called “wireless mesh,” and its existence as part of the SPD setup was no secret. Here’s an SPD-presentation graphic shown here in February:
We reported it multiple times during our coverage of the cameras and the attendant controversy over their reach beyond funding obtained from the federal Department of Homeland Security in what was described last year only as a “port-security grant,” without a mention that it would include cameras to be installed in residential/recreational areas, with views of much more than “the port.” Similarly, the discussion of the “mesh” focused previously on public-safety personnel’s ability to use it without being reliant on public networks, without much sunshine on its capability to track non-public-safety devices.
That was the focus when the “wireless mesh” came up again in a new report by The Stranger (see the story here) which also noted that the “wireless mesh” is active – visible in plain sight, if you happen to check the wi-fi ID’s displayed near the installations. While The Stranger’s story focused on the downtown installations, the wireless-mesh setups are adjacent to the cameras here and active as well, part of what SPD said in February was intended to be a ~160-access-point network citywide (described in this document prepared for last spring’s Council briefing). We checked the visible West Seattle ID’s firsthand on Wednesday morning.
We’re just out of the Southwest District Council‘s monthly meeting, where one of the guests was City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the committee that oversees public safety and technology. His committee was the one that originally signed off on the Seattle Police grant that led to the surveillance cameras that have been put up along with a “wireless mesh” communications system. Since SPD indicated that the third public meeting about the cameras, which we covered at Golden Gardens two weeks ago, would be the last, we’ve been trying to find out the next step; Mayor McGinn‘s office told us this week they don’t have a timetable for making a decision.
Tonight, Harrell – a candidate for mayor – was asked about the cameras during the SWDC meeting, and he indicated his primary concern is the fact they can “rotate” toward residential areas. Asked to clarify whether he supports activation of the more than two dozen cameras now installed, he said only if they either are rendered physically incapable of rotating toward residential areas, or if some sort of physical shield is placed preventing them from ever “seeing” residential areas. He said that’s what he wants to see instead of the programmed “masking” that SPD Det. Monty Moss, who heads up the program, has repeatedly demonstrated. Asked when the camera issue would come back before his committee, Harrell said he first wants a written briefing from SPD about the protocol for camera use here in West Seattle; he’s been verbally briefed, he said, but he wants to see the plan in writing. It’s been three months since his committee vetted a new city law requiring that type of documentation, and more, before the city could use surveillance cameras. (Our coverage of the surveillance cameras dates back to late January, when we learned about them after WSB readers noticed their unannounced installation; our archive, newest to oldest, is here.)
His appearance touched on other topics, and the council also heard from Department of Planning and Development Director Diane Sugimura regarding two current hot-button issues, small-lot homes and microhousng; toplines to be reported separately.
We’ve just finished covering the third and, it appears, final Seattle Police-led public meeting about the surveillance cameras they’ve installed along with a wireless communication system, paid for by federal Department of Homeland Security dollars. For those who are interested but couldn’t make the meeting – announced last Tuesday night, held on this pre-holiday-weekend Friday night – we rolled video on the entire meeting and will upload it when we’re back at WSB HQ. The attendees who weren’t media or police numbered about eight. A few toplines, right now:
*The system first envisioned as having 30 cameras will total 28 – an Alki Point site near the lighthouse didn’t work out technically, SPD says. As previously announced, they also dropped a camera planned for Golden Gardens, which is where tonight’s meeting was held. All but one of the 28 cameras are now installed; the 28th, in Shilshole just outside Golden Gardens, is awaiting a fix for a cracked pole. (At right, one of the two cameras in central Alki.)
*The southernmost camera, on Fauntleroy Way over the southbound bus stop by the ferry dock, might focus on traffic bound for the dock, by request of Washington State Ferries, but SPD says that agency’s request for view-only access to the cameras hasn’t yet been approved.
*The nine camera locations on/near the downtown waterfront are “temporary” and likely to change because of the tunnel/seawall construction.
*The e-mail account set up by SPD for feedback on the camera system – firstname.lastname@example.org – has received a total of “about 20” e-mails, 80 percent of them expressing opposition/concern.
Otherwise, the meeting followed the same format of the previous two, held in March on Alki and in Belltown, also led by Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh and Det. Monty Moss. SPD was also represented tonight by public affairs Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. What’s next: Mayor McGinn had said the cameras wouldn’t get the green light until a “thorough public vetting” had taken place so we’ll be checking with his office post-holiday-weekend. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, the aforementioned e-mailbox remains open.
ADDED SATURDAY MORNING, 9:24 AM: Our meeting video is finally ready, and is now atop this story.
No daily preview today, so the WSB West Seattle Event Calendar is the place to go for what’s up tonight, including nightlife. One reminder about an event outside WS but potentially of interest: As announced earlier this week, it’s the third SPD public meeting about the not-yet-activated surveillance cameras installed from Fauntleroy to Alki to Shilshole (archived WSB coverage here). This meeting’s at the Golden Gardens Bathhouse, 7 pm tonight (map).
(April photo of SPD surveillance camera installed at Admiral Way Viewpoint)
When last we checked with Mayor McGinn‘s office regarding the status of his decisionmaking on whether to give Seattle Police approval to activate the surveillance cameras installed from Fauntleroy to Alki to Admiral and beyond, they told us the ball was in SPD’s court, expecting the department to schedule “additional public meetings” (that quote’s in our March 31st update). Tonight, SPD has finally announced one more meeting: This Friday night, 7 pm, in Ballard. The announcement was made via SPD Blotter just after 8 pm tonight:
Got questions about the Port Security Grant? Missed our meetings in West Seattle and Belltown? Planning a staycation this Memorial Day weekend?
Well then, this opportunity is for you!
Tell us in person. We’ll be at the Golden Gardens Bathhouse, 8498 Seaview Pl. NW, Friday, May 24th at 7 p.m.
Can’t make it? Not a problem. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can send your thoughts to us electronically. Drop us an email at email@example.com
The first two meetings were March 12 on Alki (WSB coverage here) and March 19 in Belltown. Missed the backstory? The “port-security grant” refers to a communication system including dozens of Seattle Police-managed surveillance cameras, funded by a federal grant originally described as being for port security, but since framed in a broader public-safety context. WSB readers were first to notice cameras being installed unannounced, which led to the news being broken here, if you go all the way back to the first story (January 29) in our archive.
While the final decision on activating the new Homeland Security-funded, Seattle Police-operated surveillance-camera system isn’t in yet, at least one more has been installed. Max shared the photo taken at Admiral Way Viewpoint. SPD had said this installation lagged the others (including those that first drew attention in West Seattle two months ago) because the pole they wanted to use had been hit – now it’s fixed and the camera’s in place. As reported here on Sunday, which at one point was the SPD deadline for activating the cameras, Mayor McGinn‘s office says they’re still expecting SPD to set up more community meetings. They had two in March, one at Alki, one in Belltown; the cameras were originally described as “port security” but are in place in recreational/residential areas as well as other spots, with 30 designated sites in all from Fauntleroy to Ballard.
When we first reported two months ago on the new Seattle Police surveillance camera/wireless-mesh-communication system – after readers noticed cameras installed, unannounced, along Alki – SPD had expressed hopes of activating the system by March 31st – today.
Now that the date has arrived – in case you were wondering, we’ve verified it will come and go with no decision yet on when the system stretching from Fauntleroy to Ballard might be activated.
Mayor McGinn first said on February 11th, in a response to WSB, that “the system will not be operated without a thorough public vetting …” While he did not set specific criteria for that “vetting,” so far it has consisted of a briefing before the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee on February 20th (WSB coverage here), a briefing at the Alki Community Council‘s February 21st board meeting (WSB coverage here), an SPD-led briefing/Q-A session at Alki Bathhouse on March 12th (WSB coverage here, with video of the entire meeting), and a similar session one week later at Belltown Community Center.
We were not at that March 19th meeting, but privacy/technology activist Phil Mocek, who has closely followed and researched this, recorded and published its audio:
Grant/equipment-related documents he had sought through a public-disclosure request also are now available online.
With no updates since the March 19th meeting, we checked with the mayor’s office at week’s end to see the status of a possible decision. Spokesperson Aaron Pickus replied, “SPD is still putting together additional public meetings.”
The system was described as “port security” in the original May 2012 City Council discussions of the $5 million federal grant that’s paying for it, but in interviews and discussions over the past two months, police also have talked about other ways they, Seattle Fire, and others plan to use the camera system in developing public-safety situations. They also said for the first time at the Alki meeting on March 12th that images from the cameras would be made available to the public online – likely with a frame refreshing every two minutes or so.
For now, along with awaiting SPD word on the “additional public meetings,” we also are awaiting the department’s documentation of protocol for the cameras’ operation, as mandated by new city rules the council approved earlier this month. SPD had said those rules were being drafted by a “steering committee.” Its membership has not been disclosed; Mocek’s public-disclosure request regarding its membership is still awaiting fulfillment.
While the Seattle Police surveillance cameras first noticed by WSB readers two months ago are often referred to as the “Alki cameras” – the system includes other neighborhoods north from here, as far north as Ballard. And that’s why tonight, SPD’s second questions/answers meeting – following up the one we covered last Tuesday on Alki – is scheduled for the Belltown Community Center (415 Bell Street; map), 7 pm.
SPD reiterated last week that there would be others, but none have been announced yet. So thus far the public discussion, which started three weeks after media coverage, has consisted of:
*Public Safety, Civil Rights, Technology Committee briefing February 20th (WSB coverage here)
*Alki Community Council briefing February 21st (WSB coverage here)
*Alki Bathhouse meeting March 12th (WSB coverage here)
The system is the result of a Homeland Security grant sought by the city and originally approved by the Public Safety Committee last year (as reported here January 31st) – described at the time only as a “port security” system, without any mention of cameras in residential/recreational areas such as Alki.
Yesterday, the full City Council approved a new set of city rules that among other things, they say, will prevent that from happening in the future – as co-sponsor Councilmember Nick Licata put it, the controversial camera-equipped “drones” were also part of a grant that the council apparently approved two years before they suddenly turned up.
Co-sponsor Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, gave the topline description: “The legislation basically requires all city departments to obtain City Council approval prior to acquiring surveillance equipment” as well as Council approval for how the equipment, and the data it gathers, will be managed. It has been said that this will cover the Alki-to-Ballard cameras, even though most of them have been installed, with the “protocols” to be proposed for that system and any other surveillance equipment in place “no later than 30 days after this takes effect.”
The bill also requires “public outreach conducted in each community” where surveillance equipment would be installed.
Harrell also noted that the bill had been changed between committee discussion and vote two weeks ago and yesterday’s full Council vote.
Phil Mocek, a local activist who has been closely covering the surveillance-camera situation and related issues, points out on his website that major changes were reviewed at yesterday morning’s Council briefing meeting, hours before the afternoon vote. As he writes, and as can be seen in Seattle Channel video of the briefing meeting, Harrell mentioned SPD leadership sending the council a letter last Friday expressing a concern about “somehow … inhibiting Seattle Police ability to use surveillance equipment in certain criminal investigations on a temporary basis.” Harrell said a paragraph regarding that exemption was “already in the bill” but that they added further language SPD wanted. Licata expressed concern “about how large a loophole it was”; Harrell at that point noted more changes were made at the Seattle Police Department’s request. Licata said his concern was the definition of “criminal investigation” and whether a broad definition would open everyone to surveillance. Harrell said he didn’t think there was “ambiguity” in the definition. There was talk of maybe holding the bill – but in the end, they didn’t.
The version now online includes this paragraph:
Notwithstanding the provisions of this Chapter, City departments may acquire or use surveillance equipment that is used on a temporary basis for the purpose of a criminal investigation supported by reasonable suspicion, or pursuant to a lawfully issued search warrant, or under exigent circumstances as defined in case law. This exemption from the provisions of this ordinance does not apply to surveillance cameras mounted on drones or other unmanned aircraft.
Back to the cameras installed along West Seattle’s shores – including Harbor and Alki Avenues, Beach Drive, and Fauntleroy Way near the ferry dock, with one planned for Admiral (map) – the next steps to activation remain unclear; Mayor McGinn first told WSB on February 11th: “The system will not be operated until a thorough public vetting of the system has been completed and the public has provided input.” That “vetting” continues with the Belltown meeting tonight.
Three notes tonight on the Seattle Police surveillance-camera system that is being installed now and that the department hopes to activate this spring:
COUNCIL VOTE MONDAY ON SURVEILLANCE-SYSTEM OVERSIGHT: This Monday during the Seattle City Council‘s regular 2 pm meeting, they are scheduled to vote on the proposal to give the council a role in overseeing city-owned/operated surveillance systems from hereon out. It is not a vote specifically on the 30-camera system that Seattle Police wants to use in connection with a federally funded “wireless mesh” communications system, but rather a vote on a bill setting policies regarding surveillance systems. As reported in as-it-happened coverage here, the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee discussed the bill on March 6, including amendments. Civil-liberties activist/writer Phil Mocek has compared an earlier version of the bill to the amended version that the council will consider Monday – showing and writing about the differences on his website here, including a side-by-side comparison. Along with other points, he notes that it speaks to concerns about communication – this system, you’ll recall, was being installed without any word to the public:
Instead of a description of the nature and extent of outreach performed, the bill now requires (in paragraph ‘H’) plans for public outreach for each community in which the surveillance equipment is intended to be used, including opportunity for public meetings, opportunity for comment periods, and written agency responses to public comments.
You can read the full bill here. The Monday afternoon council meetings do begin with a public-comment period; they’re in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall downtown.
PUBLIC-DISCLOSURE REQUEST: In late January (shortly after we first reported on the cameas), Mocek initiated public-disclosure actions seeking various types of documentation related to this system, and the resulting public release of documents is under way. Some have been made available on the website through which he filed the request, and others are in progress. Another local advocate, Andrew Pilloud, also filed for public release of documents and gave us the heads-up today that some are now available – he has written about it on his website, here. He says his concerns include the fact the city could vastly expand the camera network (as discussed in an online article we found in our early reporting on the system): “If the city was offered another grant, there is no technical reason not to add a camera to every other mesh node in the city for 180 in total.” He also says the cameras have capacities beyond what SPD originally sought – this came up briefly in Q/A at last Tuesday’s Alki Bathhouse meeting (WSB coverage, with video, here).
‘TAKE DOWN THE CAMERAS’ ONLINE PETITION: As mentioned previously in WSB comments and the WSB Forums, an online petition is circulating to ask the city to cancel the camera system. (At least twice in meetings we’ve covered, SPD leadership has said that could be done without affecting the “wireless-mesh” communications network.) The petition is here. It was created by Avrian Sellick, who tells WSB this is not only for those who are against the cameras: “The petition is also for those who are deeply concerned with the SPD’s handling of the public relations aspect of these cameras. … I really just want to give those people who are concerned about these cameras an organized avenue to communicate with the city and SPD.”
Side note: SPD plans another meeting about the surveillance cameras this Tuesday in Belltown, and has said there will be others, though no further dates have been announced. It’s at 7 pm Tuesday (March 19), Belltown Community Center.
7:09 PM: We’re at Alki Bathhouse with more than thirty people as Seattle Police start their first meeting about the surveillance-camera system originally reported here on WSB. Leading off the meeting, Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who we interviewed about the system back on February 1st. Also here, Det. Monty Moss, who has led some of the briefings, and a full complement of citywide media, plus other SPD personnel (including from the public affairs/media relations office, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb and Det. Jeff Kappel). Moss is making a background-information slide presentation, similar so far to the ones he gave to the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee on February 20th as well as to the Alki Community Council the next night. (Added: Unedited WSB video of the entire hour-and-a-half meeting:)
7:12 PM: Det. Moss says they should be “done with the installation by the end of this month” and are continuing to work on policies regarding the cameras’ usage. He says two cameras are being installed “as we speak” in the Ballard Locks area, and they’re still seeking a location along Seaview, “but it will not be in Golden Gardens Park.” Closer to here, he says the Terminals 5 and 18 cameras are now installed. After discussing the camera locations, he’s showing the video demonstration about how the “privacy masking” will work, and noting that the frame rate for the video will be 5 to 7 frames per second, about a quarter of what TV broadcasts use. He says the video is recorded with the masking, and that it cannot be removed afterward – no matter what the cameras wind up picking up.
He also describes the antenna arrays for the “wireless mesh” portion of the system, which is expected to be used by other agencies from Metro to Seattle Fire, which will use it in some areas as its primary means of communication, according to Det. Moss.
The crowd continues to grow – probably closer to 40 now.
**CONTINUING AHEAD, THE REST OF OUR AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE, PLUS NOTES FROM AFTERWARD**Read More
If you missed it over the weekend: Late Friday night, Seattle Police announced the dates/places/times for the first two public meetings about the Homeland Security-funded surveillance-camera system first reported here in late January (WSB coverage archive here): The first meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday) night, 7 pm, at the Alki Bathhouse, steps from the first camera noticed by a reader, the one on a pole next to Statue of Liberty Plaza, one of more than two dozen cameras police plan to install from Ballard to Fauntleroy (those already installed include the one in the photo above, at 63rd SW/Beach Drive). If you have questions, concerns, words of support, anything to say or ask, or if you just want to hear firsthand, be there.
Seattle Police have just announced the promised meetings for “thorough public vetting” – Mayor McGinn’s phrase – of their federally funded surveillance-camera network. First one is Tuesday (March 12th), 7 pm, at Alki Bathhouse; second one, 7 pm March 19th at Belltown Community Center. They’ve also set up an address for e-mail feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s been more than six weeks since we broke the news of half a dozen cameras’ installation along Alki and Harbor Avenues, Beach Drive, and Fauntleroy Way, part of a 30-camera system linked to a “wireless mesh” communication system, and two weeks since SPD indicated there would be public forums, without mentioning dates, places, times. Tonight the city’s Seattle Channel also took an closeup look at the controversy. Our coverage dating back to January 29th is archived here, newest to oldest.
(UPDATED Thursday with clarification of proposal’s status)
(Archived Seattle Channel video of this afternoon’s committee meeting)
The City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee decided this afternoon to delay by a week its vote on a proposal to regulate how the city procures and uses surveillance systems.
The delay was attributed mostly to revisions made, and considered, via input including opinions of interested parties such as the city’s Human Rights Commission and the ACLU. Representatives of both were among those who spoke during the public-comment period that opened the committee’s meeting this afternoon; in general, most speakers said they were glad to see councilmembers acknowledge there need to be some rules and guidelines regarding how the city uses this technology. Council staffer Christa Valles made it clear that this proposal – CB 117730, as noted in our preview early Tuesday – does not set the rules for how any specific system might be used, but rather sets the parameters for what kind of rules need to be in place before a system can be planned or deployed. The Human Rights Commission’s main concern is that citizens’ “private right of action” be protected – so they can file a complaint if they are a “victim of surveillance.”
(Camera and “wireless mesh” array at 63rd/Beach Drive, silhouetted at dusk Monday)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
So far, the “thorough public vetting” of the Seattle Police-managed, Homeland Security-funded surveillance cameras awaiting activation in Alki and elsewhere has consisted of two events: A briefing at the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee meeting two weeks ago (WSB coverage here), and one at the Alki Community Council‘s board meeting in West Seattle the next night (WSB coverage here).
It’s been three weeks since the mayor made the “thorough public vetting” promise here (repeated days later to other media).
At both of the briefings two weeks ago, SPD reps mentioned a plan in the works for public forums; we asked about the dates then, again a week ago, and again this week – still no dates or other details. SPD Public Affairs told WSB this morning they haven’t heard yet either.
A related topic will get some sunlight tomorrow, when the Public Safety (etc.) Committee meets again, to discuss Councilmembers Nick Licata and Bruce Harrell‘s proposal for vetting future use/purchase of surveillance equipment, with at least one clause that appears to apply even to what’s already in the works:
(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?
(Camera installation across from Salty’s, on inland side of the street)
We promised we would publish this separately as soon as we confirmed the information: As noted during our live reporting on this afternoon’s City Council committee discussion of the Seattle Police-led, federally funded surveillance cameras, one of the key people on the project, SPD’s Det. Monty Moss, is coming to Alki for a meeting tomorrow night. We have confirmed with organizers that it’s the Alki Community Council‘s board meeting, 7 pm at Alki UCC (62nd/Hinds), and while it’s not an official public hearing, nor a town-hall meeting (SPD promises “big” meetings at some point in the future), the public is welcome.
(TOPLINE: Public discussion promised – starting with Alki Community Council board meeting Thursday night; scroll to end of story)
2:05 PM: We’re at City Hall for the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee briefing/discussion on the Seattle Police surveillance-camera/”wireless mesh” network first brought to light here three weeks ago (archived coverage here). In advance of the meeting, which is about to begin, two documents were added to the agenda today, one including more background detail on the federal-grant-funded $5 million project. Here’s here’s the background document; here’s the PowerPoint intended to illustrate a few of its points. The meeting is just getting under way. You can watch live here – or here:
(Editor’s note: The archived video from the meeting is now embedded above)
First – public comment. First up: A woman who says she wants to share “lessons we have learned” using security cameras in the International District. She says that the cameras installed there (part of a private network) have helped bolster safety and security in the area and provided evidence that will stand up in court. She says they only show the street in front of whatever building they’re installed at. The second speaker says she is a former Alki resident now living on Magnolia, and she is concerned about terrorist attacks via water. She is in favor of 24/7 surveillance and thinks “it’s a miracle” there hasn’t been a terrorist attack yet.
Third speaker from Stand Up America says that he is concerned about terrorists – “the terrorists sitting at (the council) table.” He accuses the government of terrorism and “ridiculous behavior.” He adds, basically shouting, “You guys are eroding our civil rights … don’t stand against the people, stand up for the people.” Councilmember Harrell has accused him of a “showboating tactic” after the speaker called him “a criminal.” Fourth speaker also has a red “Stand Up America” sign and identifies himself as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who also is concerned about government oppression.
Fifth speaker – Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the ACLU, which has already asked the city to reconsider these cameras, and makes it clear their concern is government surveillance – “government keeping track of the movements of individuals throughout our city.” She says the recent drone controversy was evidence that people in Seattle are not happy about having surveillance “thrust on them.” She refers to the fact that a city official (as noted in our early coverage) has been quoted as saying this is a potential step toward a citywide camera network, not just focused on waterways. Sixth speaker is Will Washington, who identifies himself as a Beach Drive resident. “This is a big issue for us,” he says, referring to conversations with neighbors in the Constellation Park area, where one of the cameras is installed. He says everyone is bothered by “the fact this was never brought to our attention … we never had a discussion about this.” He says the sentiment is that it’s a symptom of a growing “police state.” Seventh speaker says she is concerned about “be(ing) fearful of who I’m being watched by” as she is out walking her dog on Alki. She says she speaks for a friend who couldn’t be here but isn’t happy about being watched either. She says that if the cameras “were only meant for port security, they would only be facing the port.” She doesn’t want to feel like she’s being watched by somebody “for some reason or another … every time I walk out of my house.”
Eighth speaker is another Alki beachfront resident who says he lives just down the street from some of the cameras. He wants to talk about history. “Coming from a law enforcement family, I’m disappointed that a choice was made to purchase this technology that breeds complacency on the job.” He says this is the first time he’s spoken at a Council meeting. Ninth speaker is John Loftis, a former vice chair of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, and 20-year Alki resident. “It is not a high-crime area … One of the main reasons for this is that Alki is flanked by a high-density residential neighborhood. Most of us seldom close our blinds … and represent hundreds of sets of eyes at any one time.” He says that’s a very effective type of surveillance and “don’t need this type of camera to monitor the beach.” He thinks someone should be embarrassed that one of the cameras is across the street from a popular volleyball and sunbathing spot, and calls it Bikini Cam. “One of these women might have a bomb in her bikini top, I guess.” He says he just hopes his wife does not become “Miss Torso” to someone who can point and zoom the camera.
Tenth speaker is a woman who says she doesn’t want to be seen on camera because she doesn’t want the government “all in my business. … I’m calling you out because you’re wrong.” She says “I came down here to say you’re out of control.”
At 2:32 pm, the briefing begins as SPD and others introduce themselves. Councilmembers sit at a smaller table during committee meetings. Harrell and O’Brien still are the only members here. Councilmember Licata has not arrived (he is due at an unrelated West Seattle meeting tonight, though).
**EDITOR’S NOTE, POST MEETING – IF YOU ARE READING THIS FROM THE HOME PAGE TO GET THE REST OF OUR AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE AT THIS LINK: Read More
Three weeks after we published first word of the Homeland Security-funded, Seattle Police-managed surveillance cameras installed from Alki to Fauntleroy – and destined for dozens of other spots in the city – the City Council committee that approved them last year will talk about them again. We had first word last week from Councilmember Bruce Harrell that the Public Safety, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee, which he chairs, will talk about them during its meeting tomorrow at 2 pm. Here’s the official reminder sent out today:
Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee, will have the Seattle Police Department at the committee table this Wednesday to discuss the port security cameras along Seattle’s shoreline. The security cameras are part of a wireless Mesh Network, a network composed of wireless access points and fiber optic cables around the city to provide first responders like SPD, Fire, and the Coast guard access to a dedicated wireless network during emergency responses.
The equipment included in the funding package from the Port Security Grant Program is vital in advancing our goal to make Seattle the most prepared city in America. City departments, along with regional and federal partners determined prevention and protection was not adequately represented in the region. Such prevention, protection and response capabilities is particularly important for public safety to the Port of Seattle, the sixth busiest in the US, Harbor Island, Washington State Ferry terminals, and cruise ship terminals.
At the committee hearing in May of 2012, the committee determined that SPD had made a strong business case for the use of these public safety cameras as part of the municipal mesh network for use only on waterways, port facilities and facing the Puget Sound. Installation of surveillance cameras installed in recreational/residential zones for general surveillance was and will not be supported by the committee.
Before the cameras can go online, the committee will have legislation in place to restrict and regulate its use to protect the public’s privacy and civil liberties.
While cameras were mentioned by SPD in the May 2012 committee briefing, Councilmember Harrell said they were not at the time described as being destined for recreational/residential areas – yet the six that were up in West Seattle by the time WSB readers pointed them out to us in late January are all in such areas.
Mayor McGinn, meantime, first told WSB on February 11th that the cameras would get a “thorough vetting” before they can be turned on.
The system apparently has been on the drawing boards since long before even the Council discussions last spring; the first version of the camera map shown publicly, displayed to us at Police HQ downtown February 1st and then published on SPD Blotter February 4th, is dated July 2010 – follow the link and note the lower-left corner.
P.S. All WSB coverage on this topic, dating back to when we broke the news about the cameras January 29th, is archived here, newest to oldest.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
More new developments today in the saga of the federal Homeland Security-funded Seattle Police surveillance cameras installed from Alki to Fauntleroy and destined for other waterfront spots in the city as far north as Ballard.
The agenda is now out for the first City Council committee briefing on the cameras since WSB broke the news of the unannounced installations January 29, following questions about the cameras that readers started noticing the preceding weekend.
We first reported here two days ago that the briefing is set for the Council’s Public Safety, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee next Wednesday afternoon; agenda details, and more of our correspondence with committee chair Bruce Harrell, later in this story. It’s the same committee that, as reported in our second story after discovering the camera network, gave its blessing last May to Seattle Police receiving the $5 million Homeland Security grant that is funding it with a “wireless mesh” communications system. That briefing mentioned cameras but in the port-security context, with no mention they would be installed in recreational/residential areas like Alki.
First: What the ACLU is asking, in a letter sent yesterday afternoon to the mayor – who finally spoke out about the cameras back on Monday, telling WSB they wouldn’t be activated without a “thorough public vetting” – and council. The letter from executive director Kathleen Taylor is summarized by an ACLU spokesperson as follows:
The ACLU expresses concern over the City of Seattle’s practice of accepting federal grants to acquire and implement surveillance technology with no public input or oversight by elected city officials.
The ACLU is calling upon the City’s elected leaders to re-examine the extensive surveillance camera system being implemented along Alki and the waterfront. The ACLU also is calling upon elected leaders to develop a public process with public input and full disclosure of plans when the city is considering acquisition of surveillance technology and implementation of surveillance programs.
You can read the entire letter here. Taylor writes that the ACLU “supports the use of technology that improves policing and keeps us safer (but not) the use of devices that collect, store and share data about legal behavior and innocent conduct.”
We’ll also be checking on any formal response to the ACLU’s letter. Meantime, the agenda is out for the City Council committee briefing next week:
(The southernmost camera, by the Fauntleroy ferry dock)
The City Council committee that first approved receiving a federal grant for the surveillance cameras that are going up in West Seattle and elsewhere will take another look at it next week. That’s what Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee (and a candidate for mayor), told WSB late today, as part of a lengthy response to our request for comment:
I have scheduled SPD to be at the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology committee on February 20, 2pm to discuss this issue. The committee is currently examining legislation to prevent the cameras from operating in residential zones and disabling the 360 degree feature to prevent the cameras from viewing any residential buildings. I am requiring legislation to restrict its use and protect the public’s privacy before they can go online. I have always asked SPD to be proactive in its community outreach and SPD should have held meetings with the community adjacent to the proposed locations before any installations.
More to come on Councilmember Harrell’s plan. It’s been two weeks since we broke the news about the camera network, after WSB readers noticed two of the half-dozen cameras that by that time were clearly visible in the greater Alki area. Back on Monday, we reported Mayor McGinn’s first public comments on the cameras, including his promise of a “thorough public vetting” before they become operational. The 30-camera network is planned to stretch from Golden Gardens in Ballard southward to the camera you see in our photo, next to the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
Almost two weeks after WSB broke the news about a network of surveillance cameras going up in West Seattle and beyond, Mayor McGinn is promising a “public vetting” before they go into operation. We had asked multiple times for his comments, and received this statement this afternoon via spokesperson Aaron Pickus:
I’ve directed the Seattle Police Department to brief any community groups or media interested in the port security system. The system will not be operated until a thorough public vetting of the system has been completed and the public has provided input. I will also be seeking input from other partners and beneficiaries of the system, including the Port, Coast Guard, fire department, and other public safety and transportation agencies, before any operational decisions are made.
No details yet on what will constitute the “thorough public vetting.” The camera network is funded – along with an accompanying “wireless mesh” communications system – by a $5 million federal Homeland Security grant that the City Council OK’d last May, as reported here January 31st. (On followup, Pickus says the outreach will be done through SPD.)
The first elected city official to publicly voice concerns about the camera network, Councilmember (and mayoral candidate) Tim Burgess, told WSB he found it “borderline problematic.” We reported his reaction last Thursday, along with news that the mayor announced the city would scrap a different Homeland Security-funded camera project, the so-called “drones.” This updated map of the system was in that same report:
(Click image for full zoomable PDF version of new map)
The first time we saw the entire camera-network map, Golden Gardens to Fauntleroy, was during an interview with the SPD Assistant Chief in charge of the project, Paul McDonagh, commander of the Special Operations Bureau (our reports on that interview were published February 1st and February 4th). At the time, he told us there were no plans for public briefings/discussions related to the system.
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