The City Council committee overseeing Seattle’s parks will discuss a memo Thursday morning that documents a set of options for the future of the controversial Cal Anderson Park surveillance camera program. In a copy of the document reviewed by CHS, the memo prepared by Council staff lays out the major issues raised as the camera program has been examined by the City Auditor, discussed by the parks committee and debated in a public hearing on the cameras held on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
Philip Roewe, the staffer in Committee head Sally Bagshaw’s office charged with coordinating the creation of the document, told CHS that while the memo presents options and not recommendations, the plan is for the committee to emerge from Thursday’s meeting with a clear direction on new legislation that will either extend the program beyond its pilot phase — or end it.
“We haven’t had any kind of grand strategy session on this,” Roewe told CHS on Wednesday afternoon. “Tomorrow is a chance to get the big picture and discuss all the study and public comment. There will be a recommendation.”
On Wednesday, the ACLU‘s Washington wing posted a statement on the cameras calling for the program’s end : “By definition, a pilot project must reach an end, at which point the effectiveness of the project is evaluated. That time is now and the evaluation is simple; public surveillance cameras in Cal Anderson park have not been an effective law enforcement tool in any way whatsoever.”
Meanwhile, the Cal Anderson Park Alliance has also called for the
removaldisabling of the technology from the grounds the organization is dedicated to.
One group who won’t have much to say is the contingent from the department that will actually have to live with the results of the committee’s effort – Seattle Parks. While the Thursday committee agenda lists interim superintendent Christopher Williams and Parks staff as presenters, spokesperson Dewey Potter told CHS this isn’t her department’s battle.
“It’s not in our hands at this point,” Potter said. “We don’t really have a position.”
We also contacted the Seattle Police Department’s head of investigations Assistant Chief Jim Pugel to find out what he would like to see emerge from the committee’s Thursday morning meeting but our calls were not returned. At the public hearing earlier this month, Pugel spoke in favor of utilizing the cameras, arguing that the October 2009 evaluation had been premature and that a longer period of study was warranted. He cited three recent instances where CCTVs had been crucial to police in identifying and arresting suspects: 1) London Tube Attacks in July 2005; 2) the South Park murder of Teresa Butz and the assault of her partner; and 3) the slaying of SPD Officer Tim Brenton.
The memo describes five main issues Council staff believe must be considered by the committee:
- Issue #1: Continuation of the surveillance program in Cal Anderson Park.
- Issue #2: Efficacy of cameras when used for passive monitoring.
- Issue #3: Future camera installations in other City parks.
- Issue #4: Limits on SPD personnel’s authority to engage in live monitoring.
- Issue #5: Future evaluations of the surveillance program.
Each issue includes a set of options and considerations for the committee members to weigh. Here are the options from the memo for the biggest question in the bunch: Should the Council continue the surveillance program in Cal Anderson Park? You’ll note that one potentially low-friction route could be the continuation of the pilot period so that a deeper evaluation of the technology can be made. We wrote about the City Auditor’s rather inconclusive report on the program to-date here.
The memo also contains suggested options for modifying how the cameras are used should the program continue. This option/consideration set raises the option of transitioning the cameras to a ‘panning’ mode so that they would capture a greater area of the park.
If the program is extended as a pilot or made permanent, there is also the question of increasing the ability for SPD to utilize the cameras for live monitoring of the area. The current rules for live monitoring are so restrictive that SPD says there have only been five requests for live monitoring since the cameras were installed in 2008 and not all of those could be filled. Meanwhile, there were six requests for reviews of footage as part of criminal investigations. SPD says that none of the evidence provided by the cameras was useful in the investigations.
We’ll update this post after Thursday’s committee meeting. The committee is expected to vote on the resulting legislation in June, followed by a full Council vote.