Here’s why security cameras on Bridge of Glass won’t help solve assault on health chief

TACOMA, Wash. — In 2002, security cameras were installed to keep watch over the artwork displayed on Tacoma’s popular Bridge of Glass, where last month Pierce County’s chief health officer reported being attacked by a stranger.

Those cameras won’t help solve the attack on Dr. Anthony Chen, though. They’ve been inoperable since at least 2014, The News Tribune has learned.

What’s more, it’s not clear anyone ever monitored the cameras when they were working, and the devices did not record video, only sent a live stream to some city computers.

>>Tacoma-Pierce Health Department director says he was attacked

Lisa Anderson, public disclosure analyst with the city’s Management Services Office, told The News Tribune via email June 1:

“The two cameras were installed on the Glass Bridge in 2002 (give or take) for a live stream only to help with vandalism. The cameras never recorded.”

She noted the live feed “was viewable to city computers, not citizens and not for Tacoma Police only.”

“One of the cameras stopped working prior to 2014,” Anderson wrote, “and was never fixed. In October/November of 2014, the second camera was turned off, meaning the live stream was disconnected.”

She added: “My understanding is it was very dirty,” and it was believed no one used or viewed the live stream from the second camera.

NO ACTIVE OVERSIGHT OF BRIDGE CAMERAS

The discovery of the inoperable cameras was made after The News Tribune sought records related to the assault reported by Chen, director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Chen told police he was attacked about 1:40 a.m. May 19 as he was walking on the bridge.

According to Chen, he approached a man he believed was damaging benches on the bridge while performing maneuvers on a bike.

Chen said when the conversation started escalating, he walked away. The man then came up from behind and assaulted him.

“At some point, he, I assume he (the attacker) decided that he was done and he left,” Chen told reporters at a May 21 news conference describing the assault. “And I called 911 at that point. And they gave me an option of waiting there or going to the emergency room. And I chose to go to the emergency room first, and then they came to the emergency room to interview me.”

He drove himself to the hospital, according to his public accounts of the attack and the initial police report filed in the incident. No arrests had been reported as of June 3.

The News Tribune requested copies of the full police report and 911 audio from South Sound 911 on May 21 after receiving a tip about the attack.

The disclosure unit for South Sound 911 responded to The News Tribune on June 1:

“The documents you have requested are part of an active investigation and are exempt from disclosure pursuant to RCW 42.56.240(1).”

The News Tribune’s records request also included any potential video from the cameras on the bridge, sought from both South Sound 911 and the City of Tacoma.

It soon became clear that no one had any active, direct oversight of the cameras.

Tacoma Public Works’ media representative referred inquiries about any footage to the Police Department, and an emailed response from the city to The News Tribune’s request said: “The City of Tacoma does not maintain security cameras in the City. Therefore, there are no responsive records to your request.”

On May 26, a representative for South Sound 911 told The News Tribune: “South Sound 911 does not keep/store security video. If the Tacoma Police Department obtained any security footage as a part of their investigation, you would need to request it through them directly.”

Wendy Haddow, spokeswoman for Tacoma Police, told The News Tribune, “TPD does not have any cameras on the Chihuly Glass Bridge. If there are cameras, I am not sure whose they would be other than the Glass Museum’s.”

April Matson, marketing and communications director for the Museum of Glass, told The News Tribune via email: “The Bridge of Glass is overseen by the City of Tacoma. The cameras in that area are operated by the city as well.”

The News Tribune went back to the city and asked further questions and shared the other responses that put the camera responsibility back on the city.

Anderson said that after further research, “I have been told the cameras are not operational.”

BRIDGE SECURITY WANES THROUGH YEARS

The cameras’ current status is quite a reversal from when they were initially installed.

Local officials quoted in a News Tribune report in July 2002 highlighted crime-fighting measures at the bridge and museum with the headline: “Museum security almost bulletproof.”

The article noted that “glass artist Dale Chihuly’s team of designers and builders, museum leaders, neighborhood business owners and police intend to stave off destruction along the newly attractive Thea Foss Waterway.

“At all times, a museum security guard will mind four screens with multiple views of the site. An outdoor guard will patrol the area, which is lit at night. Alarms on the sculptures sense and react to movement.”

The value of the Chihuly artwork displayed on the bridge at time of installation was an estimated $12 million.

Along with all this, the bridge cameras were a critical part of all the new monitoring.

Then-city economic development marketer Rebecca Japhet told The News Tribune at that time that video cameras on the city-owned bridge fed to the city’s website for Tacoma police to monitor in sets inside their patrol cars.

The cameras were mentioned in reporting a month later after shots were fired at the bridge’s multicolored Venetian Wall, breaking four protective glass panels. The shots did not damage the artwork behind the panels. The shattered panels were discovered by an employee with Chihuly Studio, “who checks daily on the artwork along the 500-foot pedestrian bridge spanning Interstate 705.”

That report noted, “City crews are preparing to install surveillance cameras aimed at the bridge’s artwork, but those probably wouldn’t have helped in this case because the shooter wasn’t on the bridge.”

CURRENT SECURITY MEASURES

Museum of Glass officials would not detail what security is now at the museum but made clear the bridge was not their responsibility.

Matson of the museum told The News Tribune via email that there is “no one on staff who is aware of what the situation was in 2002. As it relates to our operation today, for safety and security reasons, we aren’t comfortable sharing details about our security measures.”

She added: “That said, again, the Bridge of Glass is owned and managed by the city. We have no footage of the bridge.”

Danielle Zarrella is communications manager for the Chihuly Studio in Seattle. The studio declined to comment when asked how the artist himself might feel about the lack of cameras on the bridge and artwork.

Zarrella referred questions to the City of Tacoma, “which owns and is responsible for the Bridge of Glass.”

As of June 3, original purchase information on file as to how much the cameras cost was not available.

According to Anderson, Tacoma Police “advised they did not monitor the cameras. They did not have the capabilities to monitor anything inside the patrol vehicles at that time. Officers had access to computers, but they were used to type out reports and were a shared commodity that was usually in high demand just to type out reports.”

She added: “Because they never monitored the Glass Bridge cameras in the first place, they have no plans for a new camera on the bridge.”

The News Tribune’s Alexis Krell contributed to this report.