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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mayor Will Kill SPD's Drone Program

Posted by on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 3:30 PM

Later this afternoon, Mayor Mike McGinn will announce that he is grounding the Seattle Police Department's controversial drone program and returning the two remotely controlled planes to the vendor, according to sources at City Hall who asked not to be named. "The mayor and chief had a conversation and agreed it was time to end the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program," one of the sources tells us. "It had become a distraction to the two things the department is working hard on, general public safety and community-building work."

The news comes on the heels of—and largely in response to—an angry hearing yesterday held by Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, who was considering legislation to restrict the use of the drones for police investigations. The program has created a slowly burning outcry since 2010, when the city purchased the units for intelligence gathering with the help of a federal Homeland Security grant.

Seattle's decision may influence other cities, because, as Lieutenant Greg Sackman told The Stranger last October when he was promoting the program, other cities are behind us and waiting to see what happens."

The Seattle Police Department had never made a particularly compelling case that the drones were a useful investigation tool, but critics, including the ACLU of Washington, have fought the program, saying the units could be used to gather personal information in dubious circumstances and violate civil liberties. Moreover, the drone program served as a pox on a police department that is attempting to regain public trust after a federal lawsuit accused the city of using excessive force.

Hundreds of law-enforcement agencies in the United States are authorized to use drones, but none have passed legislation restricting their use. On Monday, Charlottesville, Virginia, became the first city to pass an anti-drone resolution.

Politically speaking, ending the program seems a wise move by McGinn, who is entering a reelection year facing, among many other high-profile challengers, Council Member Harrell. Scotching the program now may take the issue out of Harrell's campaign arsenal; on the other hand, it bodes well for Harrell, too, who can rightly say that he forced the mayor's hand by bringing the issue to a head. Harrell could also push legislation to ban drones from the city outright, regardless of who is elected (or re-elected) mayor.

UPDATE at 3:50 PM: Mayor McGinn confirms in a statement: "Today I spoke with Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and we agreed that it was time to end the unmanned aerial vehicle program, so that SPD can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department’s priority. The vehicles will be returned to the vendor.”

UPDATE at 5:00 PM: "We applaud the mayor's action," says ACLU of Washington spokesman Doug Honig, reached by phone. "I think this is a classic example of the government getting out ahead of people doing something because of federal funding without having public involvement and now recognizing that it has to pull back."

But Honig warns that another fight remains. "We would like the city to reexamine the extensive camera system that is being set up along Alki and extended to I-5, another example of a surveillance program driven by federal funding and accepted by city leaders without discussion or input. That is the next thing the city needs to reexamine."


Comments (23) RSS

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He can end the surveillance program on Alki whiles he's at it.
Posted by hmmmmm on February 7, 2013 at 3:43 PM · Report this
espato 2
Go Bruce!
Posted by espato on February 7, 2013 at 3:43 PM · Report this
Seems like an unintended benefit to McGinn having tied himself so closely to Diaz.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 7, 2013 at 3:45 PM · Report this
biffp 4
I want a h/t for this:

“I was trying to make the horse have a baby,” Mendoza explained. “I was thinking it would have a horseman baby.” He added, “I ain’t going to lie, I blew a nut in the horse. I then got off the bucket and put my clothes back on and left. I promise that I have not been back over to the horse since that time.”…
Posted by biffp on February 7, 2013 at 3:46 PM · Report this
GlibReaper 5
@1 I'm sure he'll do that, by-the-by.
Posted by GlibReaper on February 7, 2013 at 3:47 PM · Report this
@5 West Seattle voted against him, and so they do not get patronage rewards like Capitol Hill. So we'll see.
Posted by hmmmmm on February 7, 2013 at 3:52 PM · Report this
biffp 7
@1, is there a camera in the Statue of Liberty?
Posted by biffp on February 7, 2013 at 3:54 PM · Report this
I would like to see Bruce Harrell's bill modified to:

  • Restrict city staff use of facial recognition and other biometric identification technology on any device to confirming the identity of the target of a warrant

  • Forbid city staff from equipping any remotely-operated or autonomous device with weapons

  • Forbid city staff from conducting general surveillance of the public with any device

  • Forbid city staff use of any remotely-operated or autonomous recording device without warrant

Posted by Phil M on February 7, 2013 at 3:56 PM · Report this
@5, I see what you did there. You are a smoothie!
Posted by gloomy gus on February 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM · Report this
trstr 10
@1 & @3: <3
Posted by trstr on February 7, 2013 at 4:08 PM · Report this
A win for anarchists!
Posted by McTwit on February 7, 2013 at 4:17 PM · Report this
Fuck McGinn. I can hardly wait until that animal gets voted out of office. What a disaster he's been.
Posted by seven on February 7, 2013 at 4:27 PM · Report this
"Forbid city staff from conducting general surveillance of the public with any device"

So, no more red light cameras?
Posted by Liberals love cameras on drivers! on February 7, 2013 at 4:28 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 14
@6 no, you mean Alki voted against him.

The non-white areas that aren't rich in West Seattle voted for him, after the Primary.

You really need to learn that West Seattle is not as white as you think it is. Just look at the census data from 2010.
Posted by Will in Seattle on February 7, 2013 at 4:45 PM · Report this
" Just look at the census data from 2010."

Or the gunfire on Alki beach in the summertime.
Posted by Pill in Seattle on February 7, 2013 at 4:53 PM · Report this
@13, Someone anonymously wrote, "So, no more red light cameras?"

I'm no legislator. My suggestions undoubtedly need some fine-tuning. I'll note, though, that as far as I know, red light cameras record only upon indication of wrongdoing on the part of those who are recorded. Though I'd generally prefer to have a human make that decision, such a system is quite different than a network of cameras recording constantly as people go about their almost-exclusively-lawful business.

Today's action is a minor victory. We need to avoid backing down now, and push our representatives to pass meaningful legislation preventing our police from performing surveillance of everyone on the off-chance that some of those recordings will later be of interest. And if Bruce Harrell thought it was wise to prohibit by law our police from putting weapons on two autonomous flying surveillance cameras, he should think it equally wise to make a law prohibiting weaponry on any autonomous data collection device.
Posted by Phil M on February 7, 2013 at 4:58 PM · Report this
Bruce Harrell leading the way.

Perhaps that's what Seattle requires, a leader?
Posted by sgt_doom on February 7, 2013 at 5:12 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 18
I was thinking we could use Kinects. Set up software so that if someone is making a "crime move" like pulling a gun, or assaulting or stabbing, the Kinect NUI analyzer would register it and send an alert to SPD.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on February 7, 2013 at 6:55 PM · Report this
Kinison 19
It seems like when it comes to public anger involving the SPD (occupy doesn't count) the mayor basically does nothing about it. From the murder of John Williams which spawned 4-6 street protests, to the out of control behavior that spawned a dozen lawsuits, he really does phone it in when it comes to these scandals. Normally he just stands at the podium, says a few words, then hands the press conference over to Diaz, who says nothing to reassure the public. Given how these scandals keep happening and that Diaz hasn't been demoted or fired, makes it painfully obvious that McGinn doesn't care what the SPD does.

So out of all these SPD scandals, all it took was a few town hall meetings filled with hyperbolic faux rage about how citizens right to privacy in a public place MIGHT be violated and he instantly kills the program, when all they had to do was enact some laws that kept that program in check. Aside from his about face in supporting the tunnel a month after being sworn in, ive never seen the mayor act so quickly on something and all you have to do is re-elected to keep the drone problem from being resurrected by the next mayor. That is assuming the SPD doesn't find a way to piss away millions on an actual helicopter, doing the exact same thing.
Posted by Kinison on February 7, 2013 at 7:00 PM · Report this
Glad I don't live in a crime infested sh*thole like the Rainier Valley where you need SPD protection. Good luck down there!
Posted by Criminologist on February 7, 2013 at 7:16 PM · Report this
Re: "a slowly burning outcry since 2010"

You mean, since 2012 when the drones were brought to light via FOIA request...

This is decidedly only the beginning, as shown by the apparently more "palatable" DHS funded surveillance.
Posted by moo on February 7, 2013 at 9:44 PM · Report this
Meanwhile President Obama is using his drones to target American citizens and accidentally killing innocents overseas with zero oversight whatsoever.

Is he getting a pass because he's a Democrat? Because I'm quite sure if GWB had done the same thing, the Stranger would be calling everyone out into the streets to protest.
Posted by Corydon on February 8, 2013 at 6:57 AM · Report this
Okay so SPD drones bad... so we get more SPD cop presence, and everyone loves the SPD officers in person, right?
Posted by madcap on February 8, 2013 at 9:44 AM · Report this

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