Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Big Digs at the Junction | Should Gay Marriage Be Legal i... »

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Council Committee To Approve Park Cameras

posted by on May 29 at 16:09 PM

Tomorrow’s meeting of the city council’s parks committee (at which council members are expected to approve additional cameras in public parks) won’t be as dramatic as the one four weeks ago, in part because the big argument has already been settled. Having written an indignant letter blasting Mayor Greg Nickels for spending an unauthorized $150,000 on four cameras in Cal Anderson Park, the council is expected to approve eight additional cameras tomorrow, along with a protocol dictating how the footage from cameras can be used. Among other things, the cameras could only record video, not sound; would have to be identified by prominent signs (as the existing cameras at Cal Anderson are not); would be set to record over footage every 14 days except in certain circumstances; and would not be monitored except in special circumstances.

After 18 months, the city will evaluate the program, looking at, among other things, crime—the reason for which the cameras are ostensibly being installed. Nickels, in fact, has said that he expects the cameras to deter crime and make the parks safer for Seattle citizens; in a letter to council members earlier this week, he justified ignoring the restriction placed on the funds by saying that “public safety issues warranted immediate action based on reports of criminal behavior in the interest of protecting the safety of park users”—a statement that, if true, might justify the expense to taxpayers: a total of $850,000 in city funds.

But let’s look at the facts. As Dan pointed out a few weeks ago, an investment of billions of pounds in unmonitored closed-circuit cameras did nothing to deter crime in the UK; meanwhile, camera images were used to solve just three percent of street robberies in London. Given that we don’t have enough cops as it is (try getting police to take you seriously when you have your wallet stolen, as I did once, or your purse jacked, as I also have, and you’ll see what I mean), spending nearly a million on cameras seems like a pointless waste of cash.

Oh, and did I mention that budget cuts are on their way? The mayor sent his requests for 2009 budget cuts to all city departments earlier this month. With those cuts expected to grow in 2010, this seems like exactly the wrong time to be dumping scarce money into a technology that has already failed.

Camera advocates, like opponents of public toilets, imply that our city parks are “magnets” for all kinds of dangerous, violent behavior. In fact, according to the city’s own crime statistics, just three robberies and three assaults occurred in Cal Anderson Park in all of 2007 (as well as a total of three robberies and one rape in the other three parks the city wants to monitor). By the standards of a big city, that doesn’t sound like an excessively “unsafe” environment to me.

I’m not up in arms about the idea of cameras in public parks (as far as I’m concerned, we jumped that hurdle years ago, legally, when we installed cameras in and around public buildings and on Metro buses); but I do think it’s a little silly to be flipping out over a handful of crimes in public parks at a time when we can’t afford to prevent or even investigate hundreds of other crimes in the rest of our city.

RSS icon Comments


Not only do they not work, they also frequently have resulted in incorrect identifications that in our current gun-happy shoot-first-torture-second culture will result in numerous Seattle citizens being subject to arbitrary arrest, search, and seizure.

While all the white guys in business suits will continue buying drugs, the sk8rbois and gurls will be harassed cause they "look like" the image.

So, instead of Driving While Black, we'll have Walking Like Homeless arrests.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 29, 2008 4:18 PM

It's $850k up front, right? Plus a much smaller amount per year for operation and maintenance. Seems like you have to amortize that out over 10 years or more and then see how many cops you could have hired with that money. Just rounding it up to a million dollars and calling it pointless without suggesting how much public safety we could alternatively have for the same slice of the yearly budget doesn't clear it up for me.

Also, Erica, what about that caller's question you misunderstood when you were on KUOW? What if the camera records alleged police brutality and the tape disappears or is allowed to be recorded over after 2 weeks? Will that be addressed, such as by web casting the video? Or giving someone outside the SPD some physical control over a copy of the tape?

I mostly agree with the points against the cameras you list, but I wonder... If crime remains constant, but some of the drugs and prostitution are pushed out of the parks, is that so bad? Seems like we could get more use out of our parks then.

@1 Will, what the hell are you talking about?

Posted by elenchos | May 29, 2008 4:33 PM

Our Mayor is becoming the man he ran against a few years ago, willing to use crime fighting efforts that violate personal privacy, waste money, and don't work, while attempting to provide simple solutions to complex problems, or sometimes, even non-existent problems. It's time for a serious progressive to run for Mayor. Who can then replace the Chief of Police.

Please Mr.Steinbrueck, please run.

....oh and hey Greg, while you're wasting money not fighting crime, please keep ignoring the crack dealers in Belltown. Brilliant! You're an idiot sir. Really.

Posted by Frank | May 29, 2008 4:34 PM

Public officials love intrusive technology. The rationalizations for buying them at great taxpayer expense are often paper-thin. They may as well be ordering digital egg-timer/blood pressure readers/barometers from the Sharper Image catalog. It's all about shopping for fancy toys. And a weird fixation with spy gadgets, probably related to half-remembered James Bond movies.

They provide almost no public benefit, certainly not commensurate with their cost.

Posted by flamingbanjo | May 29, 2008 4:37 PM

Sadly, Frank is right @3.

And when the camera feed is hacked by some kid, a lot of city council members doing drug deals and hiring prostitutes are going to look mighty silly ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 29, 2008 5:14 PM

So, can we citizens install cameras outside the homes of city council and mayoral staff and electeds to watch them 24/7 and arrest them for operating gasoline blowers used by their illegal immigrant gardeners during quiet times?

Fair is fair ... you want us to live in a fishbowl, you have to live in a much more intrusive fishbowl first.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 29, 2008 5:19 PM

In the city crime statistics document Erica referenced, under Cal Anderson
Park, is the following:

  • 140 Exclusions (2007)
  • 7-10 Armed / Strong Arm Robberies ; 3 actually in the park (2007)
  • 8-11 Aggravated Assaults; 3 actually in the park (2007)
  • 40-75 Thefts (2007)
  • 16 Drug Arrests (2007)
  • 26 Calls to 911 for drug activity (2007)
  • 20 Police on-views of drug activity (2007)
  • 514 Calls for Premise Checks (2007)
  • 86 Miscellaneous Misdemeanor Calls (2007)
  • 40 Public Disturbance Calls (2007)

How many of these incidents were "actually in the park"? Where did the others happen, and why are they even listed here?

Posted by Phil M | May 29, 2008 5:36 PM


It is curious that the city, perfectly happy to focus cameras on it's citizens, doesn't do the same for it's employees.

Especially curious that the city still hasn't put cameras in it's police precincts to monitor areas where detainees are held, transfered, and interrogated because police union members, who would be monitoring the cameras watching us, don't like being watched themselves.

Posted by unwelcomed | May 29, 2008 11:04 PM

We need cameras in the council toilets, and soon.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 30, 2008 12:24 AM

Maybe it would be more effective to just drive one of the already-camera-equipped Metro buses in circles around the parks all day and hope it catches the action.

Posted by Mahtli69 | May 30, 2008 6:06 AM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.