Mar 192013

On Monday, March 18, 2013, Seattle City Council passed C.B. 117730, which restricts City all departments’ acquisition and use of surveillance equipment. This is generally a good thing, but there are games being played, and the public are losing.

Seattle Police Department’s representative, Clark Kimerer, was all smiles when the bill was discussed publicly during the March 6 meeting of the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, expressing no opposition.  Then, Chief of Police John Diaz sent a letter on Friday, March 15, that resulted in weakening of the bill without much more than committee chair Bruce Harrell waving his hands and babbling about how criminal investigation is clearly defined, tossing around the terms articulable suspicion and probable cause in a few seconds of “just trust me.”  Councilmember Nick Licata, who has been asking the right questions lately, seems to have just trusted Harrell on this one, and definitely should not have done so.

Harrell glossed over the changes when Licata questioned them during the council briefing earlier in the day. Harrell reported that multiple councilmembers received a letter from the Chief of Police on March 15. He said that the police were requesting a paragraph that was already included in the bill. He did not explain why this needless request led to a substantial change in the bill. Discussion ended with the expressed assumption that the changes would be discussed in detail at the full council meeting later in the day. They were not.

Immediately upon initiation of discussion of the bill during the full council meeting, Harrell moved to replace version 10 of the bill with version 12. Without any discussion, the motion passed unanimously. There were four changes. One removed some redundancy that was introduced with version 10. Another added a section requiring evaluation of the effects of this ordinance one year after its implementation. A third narrowed slightly the exemption for investigative use of equipment “that will be installed or used on a temporary basis” to equipment “that is used on a temporary basis.”  The fourth significantly widened the exemption for police investigative surveillance from criminal investigations pursuant to lawfully issued search warrants to those supported simply by reasonable suspicion.

Our police sneaked in a system of scores of public surveillance cameras with nearly 200 wireless access points at which they almost certainly hope to install more cameras, and Bruce Harrell thinks they should be able to bypass City Council oversight based on nothing more than reasonable suspicion.  Not based on a search warrant, not even on probable cause, but on reasonable suspicion—just a bit more than a hunch.  Mayor McGinn has shown that he is unwilling to stand up to our rogue police department, and now it seems that Bruce Harrell is either unwilling to do so or is incapable of doing so without being fooled by the police.

Here’s a diff of version 10 vs. version 12:

--- bill_v10    2013-03-19 02:00:15.728145999 -0700
+++ bill_v12    2013-03-19 02:00:17.832145999 -0700
@@ -17,7 +17,6 @@
 some contexts, such as red light cameras, the benefits of such
 technologies should be balanced with the need to protect privacy and
 anonymity, free speech and association, and equal protection;
-weighed against the potential downsides, including impacts on privacy;

 WHEREAS, while the courts have established that people generally do not
@@ -189,9 +188,9 @@

 Notwithstanding the provisions of this Chapter, City departments may
 acquire or use surveillance equipment
-that will be installed or used on a temporary basis
+that is used on a temporary basis
 for the purpose of a criminal investigation
-pursuant to a lawfully issued search warrant,
+supported by reasonable suspicion, or pursuant to a lawfully issued search warrant,
 or under exigent circumstances as defined in case law.  This exemption
 from the provisions of this ordinance does not apply to surveillance
 cameras mounted on drones or other unmanned aircraft.
@@ -210,6 +209,10 @@
 protocols to the City Council for review and possible approval by

+Section 4. Following one year after the effective date of this
+ordinance, the City Council will review its implementation as it applies
+to city department use of surveillance equipment.
 This ordinance shall take effect and be in force 30 days after its
 approval by the Mayor, but if not approved and returned by the Mayor
 within ten days after presentation, it shall take effect as provided by

Brief notes I published via Twitter while reviewing the council briefing and meeting of full council:

  • At Monday’s @SeattleCouncil briefing, discussion of surveillance equipment bill 117730 began at 59m0s:
  • Harrell said Chief of Police sent letter March 15 to councilmembers requesting addition of paragraph that was already included in bill.
  • Unclear what still needed to change. Licata asked just how big of a loophole this would open. Harrell said already made mult changes for SPD
  • Licata expresses concern over allowing use of surveillance equipment for any criminal investigation; could create wide loophole. 63m38s
  • Council Briefing discussion of surveillance bill ended with agreement that there’d be more discussion of details at Full Council meeting.
  • March 18 @SeattleCouncil meeting begun discussion of C.B. 117730 restricting surveillance equipment use at 57m8s
  • Council immediately voted unanimously to replace v10 of the bill with v12. Harrell later described revisions since v10 at 62m58s
 Posted by at 3:05 am

  3 Responses to “Seattle City Council pass ordinance restricting surveillance equipment after Councilmember Harrell slips in a gift for police”

  1. Thank you, Phil. I would have missed the briefing-meeting conversation if not for your ongoing thorough coverage.

  2. […] believe I may have been a bit hasty in my assessment yesterday of the situation surrounding Seattle Police Department meddling in the crafting of legislation […]

  3. […] replace version 10 with version 12.  The motion passed unanimously without any discussion.  Among three other changes, version 12 contained the following paragraph: Notwithstanding the provisions of this Chapter, City […]

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>