New push to restrict law enforcement surveillance cameras on City Light poles

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

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There's new pushback against law enforcement surveillance cameras in Seattle after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is working on legislation to require federal agencies like the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to get city permission before putting cameras on city-owned light poles.

"The city should not be complicit in taking away citizens' privacy. And especially chilling to members of the public is all that information going to a Trump administration," Sawant said.

In the summer of 2015, KIRO 7 covered the controversy over ATF cameras on light poles in Seattle's Central District, and filed a records request with the city for information about other cameras.

In November 2015, the city provided a list of past locations of law enforcement cameras, and we visited some of them.

With one exception, we spotted no cameras.

They appeared to have been taken down at the conclusion of specific investigations.

KIRO 7 found no evidence of widespread generalized surveillance.

The FBI got a court order preventing the city from releasing the locations of its cameras.

Seattle police also have cameras on light poles, but the department says they've never been used, and their power lines are cut.

The outcry over SPD cameras and drones led to a 2013 ordinance requiring city departments to get City Council approval for surveillance equipment.

In the past, City Light kept lists of surveillance cameras on its poles, but says SPD now handles those requests.

"To my knowledge there are no cameras in place on City Light poles at this point in time," Jim Baggs, of Seattle City Light, told Sawant's committee.

Soon after Baggs said that, KIRO 7 went to the ATF camera near 23rd and Jackson and found it still on the pole.For all the concerns about privacy, there are people in Seattle who want more surveillance cameras for fighting crime.

In 2015, community members in the Rainier Valley concerned about gun violence asked Mayor Ed Murray and police Chief Kathleen O’Toole for cameras.

An SPD spokesman said Tuesday discussions about adding cameras are "ongoing."