Last Friday, Seattle City Council Member Sally Bagshaw, an ACLU representative, and several residents concerned about the surveillance cameras mounted at Cal Anderson park were led on a tour of the Seattle Police Department's West Precinct 911 call center to see how the cameras operated. What they ended up seeing were three unexplained cameras pointed at various locations in the Central District.
"They fired the cameras on for us, there was a drop down box that said Cal Anderson cameras, and then another drop down menu that said, I believe, Garfield cameras," says Brian Alseth, ACLU Director of the Technology and Liberty Project. Alseth adds that when the group asked Lt. Greg Schmidt, who directs the call center and was conducting their tour, about the cameras, "the response we got was that, essentially, they just appeared out of the ether."
Alseth says the cameras are located at 23rd Avenue and Cherry Street, 23rd and James Street, and 23rd and Jefferson Street. While the first two appeared to be pointed at intersections, they don't appear to be traffic cameras; the third showed the parking lot of the high school, along with the entrance to the Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center.
"The most concerning part was the that police didn’t know why they were there and why we had access," says Alseth, "and neither did Council Member Sally Bagshaw" who is chair of the city council's Seattle Center and Parks committee. "So they're not aiding law enforcement, nobody could tell us when they were installed or for what purpose, and purportedly, nobody is watching them. We seem to have this strange bureaucratic run around, and meanwhile cameras are springing up like rabbits."
I have calls in to Bagshaw's office and SPD for more details.