skip navigation
Support KUOW

City Council Reviews Surveillance Cameras in Cal Anderson Park

Carolyn Beeler

Two years ago surveillance cameras were installed in Seattle's Cal Anderson Park. Community members and civil rights groups protested the surveillance. Now the cameras are rolling but no one's watching the footage. A Seattle City Council committee will meet today to discuss the cameras' future.


Joelle Hammerstad is with Seattle's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Hammerstad: "So right here is one of the three cameras that we have at Cal Anderson park. It's situated on a light pole between the ball fields and the shelter house bathrooms area."

To her left is a sports field. To her right, an empty shelter house. And high above, one of the only surveillance cameras in a Seattle City park.

Hammerstad: "It's about thirty feet up and it's...I think it's small and indescript."

There are three cameras in the park. Most who walk by don't notice them, even though signs warn of 24–hour surveillance.

Katie Peterson is hurrying through the park on her way to an interview.

KUOW: "Have you ever noticed that security camera up there?"

Peterson: "I absolutely have not."

KUOW: "How often do you walk by here?"

Peterson: "Every single day."

But when the cameras were installed two years ago, they attracted a lot of attention. Then–Mayor Greg Nickels irked Seattle City Council by having the cameras installed before they were approved. That cost $144,000.

Rood: "We saw them put it in, that's how we found out."

Kay Rood used to live across the street from the park. She's president of the Cal Anderson Park Alliance. But she speaks only for herself on the camera issue.

Rood: "I thought it was outrageous. In general the Capitol Hill community was against the idea of surveillance cameras anywhere. So the fact that these cameras were installed and surveillance was begun with no one's knowledge, not only not the community's but not even City Council's, and the fact that it was funded from an alternative source, which I still don't know what it was, I think is fairly outrageous."

The ACLU came out against the surveillance. A local group wore giant fake cameras on their heads and walked around the park to remind people they were being watched.

The Seattle City Council placed restrictions on how the cameras could be used. Only police are only allowed to watch footage in real time, and only in case of emergency. They can request to use old footage in investigations.

Joelle Hammerstad from the Parks Department says the cameras are still useful even though they're not monitored. Hammerstad: "They were installed not to be watched in real time as a matter of course, they were installed only to be used in certain circumstances and so by having the authority to review them be dispersed throughout the city I think ensures that they be used in the manner that they were intended."

The police department and the city council say they don't know much about the cameras. And Joelle Hammerstad says the Parks Department's role is minimal.

Hammerstad: "The parks departments portion of responsibility was to get them installed and to respond to public disclosure requests, and we did the installation in 2008 and we've had two public disclosure requests and that's been the extent of our involvement."

The City Auditor's office looked into the cameras last year to see if they were effective. Auditor David Jones says so far police have used the footage to investigate one crime.

Jones: "We couldn't say anything definitive about whether or not the cameras had deterred crime from happening."

And it doesn't seem like the cameras are making people feel much safer.

Jones: "We just asked people, gee do you feel safer in the park because of the cameras and the data we got said, eh, no, it doesn't really have an effect on me. Because A, either I'm not aware that they're there or no, it doesn't really add to my perception of safety."

The ACLU still wants authorities to remove the cameras. It costs about $5,300 a year to operate the surveillance system.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw's office says no decision will be made soon as to whether the program will continue.

For KUOW News, I'm Carolyn Beeler.

© Copyright 2010, KUOW