This morning, the city council's parks committee moved toward getting rid of surveillance cameras in Cal Anderson Park and the Garfield Community Center. The cameras were installed at the direction of former mayor Greg Nickels—the Cal Anderson camera as a pilot project approved by the council, the Garfield camera installed at the request of former deputy mayor Tim Ceis and never approved by the council.

The cameras at Cal Anderson haven't been in use since this past January, when the pilot project ended.

This morning's debate came down to several competing arguments. On the one hand, committee chair Sally Bagshaw noted, the city has already spent more than $200,000 to install the cameras, "which is an extraordinary amount of money to put them into play and not use them." Additionally, the cameras have some support from the public and police. TK TK with the Seattle Police Department told the committee that although SPD has never used the cameras to solve a crime, "there have been instances where we could have used them" since they've been taken out of active service.

On the other hand, council members noted that the cameras raise privacy concerns. "There's a real concern in the public about having cameras" in public parks, Bagshaw said. "People feel like the government is spying on them. Do we want this to be the way Seattle is?"

Other committee members said the fact that the cameras are already in place shouldn't be an argument for keeping them there permanently. "The cameras were put in without council consent, unilaterally, by the previous mayor, and it becomes a strategy where we're going to say, we're not going to take them out now," council member Tom Rasmussen said. "I think the whole thing was very haphazard and very unprofessionally done ... in violation of informal agreements that [Nickels] had with the council."

Finally, committee members argued that the parks where the cameras were supposed to be installed (because of budget constraints, they only went in at Cal Anderson) didn't make sense. "It seems a little arbitrary where we have these cameras," council member Bruce Harrell said. "I didn't like the arbitrary nature of where they were" located.

Technically, the committee wasn't considering specific legislation today. (The legislation they would have considered, which would have made the surveillance program permanent, was in draft form and now will probably never be introduced.)  Instead, council staffers will have to draft legislation ending the Cal Anderson program and stating that the cameras will be removed; it's unclear whether taking out the Garfield cameras will require council action, since they were installed at Nickels' request.

I have calls out to the rest of the council to gauge council members' support for removing the cameras.

Council public safety chair Tim Burgess says he "strongly" opposes permanent surveillance cameras in city parks. He says the city should use cheaper, more flexible mobile wi-fi cameras instead, "and only when we have specific facts and circumstances that justify their use, and I don't believe that condition is met at Cal Anderson." Council member Sally Clark agrees: "I would like to see them come out of Cal Anderson Park," she says.

Both Burgess and Clark say, however, that cameras do make sense at Garfield, where two teenagers were shot, and one killed, in 2008.

"The way [the community center] is constructed is a textbook worst-case scenario for crime prevention through environmental design" because it's impossible for community-center staff to see what's going on outside. "It would have helped to have the possibility of identifying who was in the area" before the shooting, Clark says.

A spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn has not returned a call seeking his position on the surveillance cameras; however, a council staffer said this morning that McGinn has previously supported keeping the cameras in place.
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