Seattle Courant Archive

Cameras in more parks backed

Cameras in more parks backed

By Angela Galloway
May 31, 2008

The committee approved spending $850,000 for about a dozen such security cameras, including several already installed at a Capitol Hill park by employees of Mayor Greg Nickels. Committee members also established protocols for the use of the cameras, which are slated for Victor Steinbrueck, Occidental and Hing Hay parks.

Under the committee's restrictions, the cameras would be used for only 21 months -- unless the findings of an upcoming city audit later persuade council members to retain them.

"I have my doubts whether this is going to make much of a difference (in crime), but perhaps it will," said Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the Parks & Seattle Center Committee. "Other communities have found that the cameras, after a while, don't have much of a deterrent effect. ... So we'll see.

"We have quite a good set of checks and balances here to make sure that these are not inappropriately used," Rasmussen added.

The full council is expected to consider the measures June 9.

If officials ultimately are satisfied with the outcome, the cameras might later be installed at additional parks, Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis has said.

That worries some.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington opposes the cameras, but is pleased that the committee made the program temporary and subject to an independent audit, said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the group.

The ACLU contends that people have a right to go to public spaces without government surveillance. The group also says such cameras do not deter crime.

"They move it into other areas outside of the eyes of the camera," Honig said. As a result, some governments simply add more and more cameras. In the end, "Overwhelmingly, what they capture is innocent conduct by law-abiding citizens."

The council initially approved the idea of spending $850,000 on cameras last fall. But council members also temporarily froze those funds, saying they first wanted to know more from the mayor's staff about how they would be used. The council directed that the money was not to be spent unless they reapproved the move in a second vote. The maneuver, called a "budget proviso," is a way the council can approve a budget proposal in concept, but attach strings to the actual spending.

Yet, months ago, the mayor found another source for about $144,000 to buy some cameras and had crews install them at Cal Anderson Park. Although Nickels' end-run angered some council members, the full council appears likely to approve the rest of the funding next month.

The committee voted Friday to lift the freeze on about $706,000. The cameras would record video around the clock. Authorities would only monitor live feeds when police suspect criminal activity, during periods of "heightened alert" or in case of "serious public disturbances," according to officials.
P-I reporter Angela Galloway can be reached at 206-448-8333 or Follow politics on the P-I's blog at