West Seattle, Washington
(Click image for full zoomable PDF version of new map)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
While Mayor McGinn has just announced that Seattle Police‘s Homeland Security-funded drone program has been scrapped (see his statement here), the work continues on the 30-camera network first reported by WSB a week and a half ago.
And one of his challengers in this fall’s election describes the system as “borderline problematic.”
More on that shortly.
First – We’re continuing to research the new fixed cameras that could be in operation as soon as next month in West Seattle and other areas of the city. This week, we have a new, clearer map of the 30 cameras’ planned locations – 12 of them in the West Seattle vicinity. The new map makes it easier to see where the ones not already in place are planned; for example, comparing a labeled map with this one, you’ll note one location is the Admiral Way Viewpoint, by SW Olga. We checked the site – no camera, but the southeast pole has loops of cable; in our interview last Friday with SPD Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who as Special Operations Bureau commander is in charge of this, he said that “about 9” of the 30 had been installed as of the time of our conversation.
As noted in our second report on January 31st, the $5 million grant that paid for the cameras was approved by the City Council in May of last year. A network of cameras was mentioned in passing during the briefing given pre-vote to the Public Safety, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee, but locations were not discussed, and it was described only as “port security,” with no mention that cameras would be installed in recreational/residential zones.
When we spoke with Assistant Chief McDonagh, he explained that a “steering committee” has yet to make the decisions about who will operate the cameras and which agencies will have access to their 24-hour video streams. He did say that in retrospect, he thought telling the commmunity in advance might not have been a bad idea; as we first reported on January 29th, the cameras were first noticed by WSB readers the preceding weekend, and we learned their purpose through two days of inquiring with various city agencies.
We have asked for comment from Mayor McGinn, and renewed the inquiry this afternoon following the no-drones announcement, but mayoral spokesperson Aaron Pickus e-mailed back, “We don’t have anything to add to what SPD has already discussed with you.”
Last night, we spoke with another mayoral candidate, Councilmember Tim Burgess – a former Seattle Police officer and former chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee – when he came to West Seattle to speak with the Southwest District Council.
“I think it’s borderline problematic,” Councilmember Burgess told us, saying that the original explanation of the cameras was that they were for port security and would be installed around Elliott Bay and port facilities, but now it’s been disclosed they have been installed “from Fauntleroy to Golden Gardens,” which he considers “not appropriate.”
He added that he thinks “the council should play a larger role here … maybe (it) should set stronger rules about the use of surveillance and technology that goes beyond what the original intent was.”
Assistant Chief McDonagh told us on Friday that he expected the Council would be briefed again; no date has yet been announced. There’s a target date of March 31st for activation of the camera system, but the aforementioned “steering committee” – whose membership list we have requested from SPD but not yet received – will make the final decision, he said.
ADDED 6:30 PM: Toward the end of The Stranger‘s coverage of the mayor’s no-drones decision today, the ACLU’s Doug Honig is quoted as saying they think the city needs to re-examine this camera system next.
(City map of camera/communication system – click for larger, zoomable view)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
While installation of 30 federally funded, Seattle Police-run cameras continues – with 9 up as of the end of last week, according to SPD – who will operate them and who will have access to them is not yet decided.
That’s according to SPD’s Special Operations Bureau commander, Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who we interviewed late Friday.
We reported on several key points of the conversation hours after it concluded, in our third report about the cameras; our first one appeared here last Tuesday, with a bit of information about the previously unannounced, unreported installations, after a first round of research followed WSB readers’inquiries.
Then Thursday, our second report included details of the project gleaned from the video archive of a little-noticed City Council committee briefing and vote back in May.
As shown in our Friday coverage, we confirmed that the six cameras we had seen along West Seattle’s waterfront boulevards are only half of the 12 planned for West Seattle; the southernmost camera is also already up, over the southbound RapidRide bus stop at the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
Ahead, full details from our conversation with Assistant Chief McDonagh, which we recorded on video and have excerpted with links to specific points in the conversation:
Three days ago, thanks to sightings reported by WSB readers, we were first to report on a story that since has been picked up by multiple citywide news organizations – cameras and wireless equipment that appeared on utility and streetlight poles along Harbor/Alki Avenues and Beach Drive.
Inquiries and research subsequently brought information – reported here Thursday – that it’s all part of a Seattle Police-led project funded by a federal Homeland Security grant.
This afternoon, SPD offered news organizations covering the story – including WSB – the chance to talk with Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh, who as the commander of the Special Operations Bureau is heading up the project. We talked with him late today, and while a detailed story will follow, there are a couple points we wanted to report tonight:
Biggest one: The cameras are not just along Alki. Nine are up now, and SPD says there will be 30 in all, from Shoreline to Fauntleroy, by the time they’re turned on, likely this spring:
The lines represent fiber connections – the dots, the camera locations. In West Seattle, in addition to the six we counted along Alki/Harbor/Beach, locations you see on the map include Alki Point, the West Seattle Bridge vicinity, Harbor Island, and one in Fauntleroy, which we found right over the southbound RapidRide bus stop at the ferry terminal:
(This one is installed on the inland side of the pole – a problem that Asst. Chief McDonagh confirmed had been fixed for some of the Alki cameras when it came to light in the past day or two.)
Another point of note: While the cameras’ primary mission is homeland security, McDonagh confirmed they can and will be deployed for many other things, including criminal investigations. He also said that there are no plans for community meetings or briefings about them, though he expected to update City Councilmembers at some point.
We recorded our conversation at SPD HQ downtown on video and will have that with the full story this weekend.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Since our first report Tuesday on the surveillance cameras that have turned up from Harbor Avenue to Beach Drive – we’ve learned more information about them, while other questions remain.
To recap, if you missed our first story:
WSB readers started noticing the cameras last weekend. We have counted six installed on utility and streetlight poles, with wireless transmitting equipment above them: On the inland side of Harbor Avenue near Salty’s and Seacrest, on the water side at Duwamish Head, on the inland side of Alki Avenue by the Shoremont Apartments (photo above), on the water side by the Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza, and on the water side at the end of Constellation Park/Richey Viewpoint, at 63rd SW and Beach Drive.
The cameras are part of a Seattle Police-led, federally funded project approved by the City Council last spring, though the discussion at City Hall mentioned only “port security,” not specific locations or numbers, and questions are circulating now regarding an online mention that the project is likely to expand far beyond “port security.”
Last spring’s discussion of the project was at the May 2, 2012, meeting of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, with its chair, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and member Councilmember Mike O’Brien present.
Since last weekend, we’ve been getting questions from WSB readers about installations in prominent Alki spots of what appear to be new surveillance/security cameras (a hot topic right now, as evidenced by the discussion about private cameras at last week’s West Seattle Block Watch Captains Network meeting [WSB coverage here]). Traveling the waterfront, you can see at least half a dozen similar installations along Harbor and Alki Avenues as well as one near Constellation Park. Since they’re all on utility and streetlight poles, we speculated they had to be some kind of city project, so we started inquiring with city departments, and after two days of inquiries finally have a bit of information. SDOT pointed us to Seattle Police, as did Seattle City Light, describing it as a police project related to port security. Southwest Precinct operations Lt. Pierre Davis explained that the cameras are “part of a grant project ran by SPD to observe the waterway in that area.” This online article from last summer quotes a Seattle Fire Department official as mentioning a project for surveillance cameras all along the waterfront to help public-safety personnel in case of incidents. SPD Public Affairs says more information about the project will be made public soon.