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Originally published May 21, 2013 at 10:27 PM | Page modified May 21, 2013 at 10:46 PM

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Woodinville council OKs police cameras in pilot program

The Woodinville City Council Tuesday night voted to purchase surveillance cameras to help fight crime in that city.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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There’s one more place where you may soon be on camera.

The Woodinville City Council gave the go-ahead Tuesday night for the purchase of police-surveillance cameras on roads and other public locations.

Police Chief Sydney Jackson asked the council to appropriate $55,000 for a pilot program that would use video cameras as “a force multiplier” to help police identify suspects in theft-related crimes.

Police have struggled to reduce Woodinville’s crime rate to a level similar to those in other suburban cities in the area, and Jackson said it would be a cost-effective way to catch more criminals.

Details of the program will be presented for approval at a future council meeting, but Jackson said the first cameras may be located at major intersections and “portals to the city.” Police might purchase a portable “rapid deployment” camera, too.

And the city may consider purchasing or leasing automated license-plate readers, Jackson said.

The council vote was 5-1. Mayor Bernie Talmas voted no, saying he was concerned about privacy issues and possible liability to the city.

After a demonstration of video technology in January, the mayor said it was “creepy” to watch a live video feed of girls playing soccer on a field next door to City Hall.

The girls were on public property, Jackson said at the time, so they didn’t have an expectation of privacy.

Jackson and City Manager Rich Leahy said cameras would not be continuously monitored. Instead, they would be used only after crimes — or possibly during a crime in progress — to identify suspects or their vehicles.

If the program isn’t found to be cost-effective, Jackson and Leahy said, they may ask the council to discontinue it.

Councilmember Scott Hageman said he understood the “Big Brother concern” about video surveillance, but said when his briefcase was stolen from his car, “I kind of wished at that point those cameras were on my car.”

Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen said most citizens she has talked to agree the cameras are a good idea. Crime, she said, “has a huge impact on your life, and it doesn’t have to be an actual violent crime to have that kind of impact.”

Woodinville is moving toward video surveillance at a time when more police departments are using the technology, but many citizens oppose those programs.

In response to widespread opposition this year, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn backed off programs to use waterfront surveillance cameras and police drones. Seattle’s City Council now requires police to get council permission for most uses of surveillance technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington organized a petition campaign warning the Woodinville City Council of the dangers of broader surveillance. ACLU Executive Director Kathleen Taylor wrote that without appropriate guidelines, video networks “can move us step-by-step toward the creation of a ‘surveillance society,’ where government has the unrestricted ability to track where we go, what we do, and with whom we associate.”

Police Chief Jackson said the ACLU’s concerns “are all in line with our program goals and desired uses.”

Polls of Woodinville Chamber of Commerce members showed a majority of respondents supporting the video proposal, while a city-sponsored online survey showed most respondents opposing it.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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