Woodinville mulling surveillance cameras in parks, on streets

WOODINVILLE, Wash. -- The City of Woodinville is considering using a city funds to install an unknown number of surveillance cameras in the city's parks and on its streets to help investigate crimes despite public outcry over a similar plan in Seattle.

Alexandra Sheeks, assistant to the city manager, said there have been a number of crimes committed in Woodinville over the past year where the cameras would have been helpful, such as by capturing images of bank robbers or license plate numbers.

But, surveillance cameras in public places tend to raise privacy concerns from the public.

Earlier this month, the Seattle Police Department faced a backlash from residents and the Seattle City Council after it used federal grants to install cameras along the city's waterways and purchase two camera-mounted drones.

Seattle residents and councilmembers voiced concerns about the potential for the cameras and drones to spy on civilians and argued they should have been better informed before the money was spent and the cameras were installed.

In the wake of the outcry, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn grounded the drone program and instructed the Police Department to return its two drones to the manufacturers.

Sheeks said the city has been paying attention to what happened in Seattle and has launched a public survey before purchasing the surveillance cameras.

"That's why we're going out with this public process now," she said. "We really want to know what people and businesses think."

The online survey asks residents if they think cameras would improve public safety or are an invasion of privacy, among other questions.

Sheeks said a preliminary meeting with the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce went fairly well, though she expects the city will hear both sides of the argument from its residents.

So far, the city has not figured out how many cameras it would purchase or where exactly they would be installed.

The city will continue to collect input on the plan through the end of March, at which points results will be presented to the Woodinville City Council.

Ed. Note: The City of Woodinville originally stated it would be using a federal grant to purchase the surveillance cameras. It will actually be using the city's General Fund if it decides to purchase and install the cameras.