Cameras recommended for 3 Seattle parks

The City Council has moved closer to videotaping visitors to Seattle's parks, saying it could deter crime.

On Friday, the parks committee recommended approving Mayor Greg Nickels' plan to install police surveillance cameras at three parks. The cameras would stay up for 21 months as part of a pilot program.

The full council is expected to vote June 9. If the measure were to pass, cameras would go live in about two months in these parks: Victor Steinbrueck near Pike Place Market, Hing Hay in the Chinatown-International District and Occidental in Pioneer Square.

"It's worth trying," said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, parks committee chairman. "The [police] department feels strongly they can be a deterrent to crime, as well as help with evidence in cases."

Three cameras were installed in February in Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill. Several council members were upset after learning that Nickels went around a council budget proviso requiring council approval before the city could spend $850,000 on the cameras.

Council members have since sent a letter to Nickels saying they will consider "strong steps" in the future if their budget restrictions are not honored, Rasmussen said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington opposes the cameras.

Research has shown that police cameras in public areas don't deter crime, said spokesman Douglas Honig. "It just moves it to other areas outside the eyes of the cameras."

Honig said officials then respond by installing more and more of them, eroding the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

The cameras would record 24 hours a day, but the tape wouldn't be monitored. Police supervisors could authorize staff to monitor video during a 911 call, as part of a criminal investigation or during a state of emergency. The recordings could be obtained through public-disclosure requests or for lawsuits.

Council President Richard Conlin and members Rasmussen, Tim Burgess and Nick Licata recommended passage to the full council.