The City Council approved policies — designed to balance citizens’ privacy rights with the desire to prevent and solve crimes — for police to use surveillance cameras. The motion passed with a 4-1 vote at the August 6 meeting. Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen and Councilmembers Les Rubstello, Paulette Bauman and Susan Boundy-Sanders voted to approve the policies that will regulate the cameras. Mayor Bernie Talmas, who in May voted against the use of the cameras, also voted against the policies for using them. Councilmembers Art Pregler and Scott Hageman were absent.
Aspen said she wanted to give police more tools to reduce the crime rate, noting that people are already subject to video surveillance from owners of private businesses.
"I feel confident that it is clear in here that they [the cameras] will be in a place where there is, as stated, no reasonable expectation of privacy," she said. "... A lot of people don’t realize how many times during the day they are videotaped, whether they’re shopping, or banking, playing with their kids at the park, walking their dogs."
Boundy-Sanders pointed out that "we have at least two citizens in Woodinville who oppose the cameras, but there are more who have driven the project, requested the cameras, and, overall, supported it."
Talmas argued that the policies could make Woodinville a target of lawsuits and that the guidelines don’t do enough to protect privacy.
"I think what most people understand is that the expectation of privacy is not necessarily based on location, but on who’s around you, who you perceive to be around you," Talmas said. "You may be walking on a public street, but if there’s no one else around, you wouldn’t expect — I wouldn’t expect — to be the subject of video surveillance."
The policies the council approved, and the council’s discussion at its August 6 meeting, clarified how the cameras will be used.
What will the video cameras be used for?
The cameras have several purposes: to provide leads and identify suspects for the police to investigate, to provide evidence that can be used in court, to document police officers’ behavior to protect citizens and officers, to investigate traffic accidents and to improve responses to emergencies.
The cameras will not be monitored continuously. Who will have access to the video recorded by the cameras?
Only police and city employees who have been trained in the camera policies will be able to operate the cameras. Use of the camera system will be tracked by each user’s login ID and password, and the chief of police will periodically audit how the system is being used.
Citizens can access the video recordings through public records requests. People who make requests will have to pay for the the CD or DVD used to make copies of the recordings.
Where will the cameras be located?
The cameras will be located on public streets and in city-owned parks. They will be aimed to capture areas that are open and visible to the public, "where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy; and where, if present, any member of the general public or law enforcement could view or observe the recorded activity," according to the policies the council approved.
In emergencies, the cameras may be moved to record criminal activity as it happens.
The cameras will not be directed to look into non-city owned buildings, such as residences.
Signs will be posted to notify people that cameras are being used in the city, and the cameras’ exact locations (except for those of portable cameras being used for covert operations) will be posted on the city’s website.
How long will video recordings be stored?
The video recordings will be stored for a maximum of 30 days, after which they will be erased unless the footage is being used for a police investigation, court proceeding, public disclosure request or other use approved by the chief of police.
How many cameras will be used?
The council and the police department haven’t decided on an exact number. The number of cameras will depend on their price, but would probably be "in the single digits," Police Chief Sydney Jackson said. The city has allocated $55,000 for the cameras.
What uses of the cameras are prohibited?
The cameras cannot be used in a way "which violates a reasonable expectation of privacy," nor can they be monitored "solely based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or any classification that is protected by law," according to the policies. However, there’s an exception to this rule when police are investigating a suspect whose description is known.
Camera operators may not "continuously watch recordings of people displaying affection in public areas, unless such activity is criminal in nature," the policies state.
The cameras will not be used for non-criminal investigations, traffic violations, or civil infractions.
The cameras will record only images, not sound.