The city of Seattle must be forthright if it wants to use police surveillance systems.

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POLICE surveillance cameras are a sensitive topic in Seattle, which decided after lengthy debate two years ago that cameras need City Council approval.

The ordinance now guiding the use of surveillance equipment is intended to balance the needs of police with citizen concerns about lost privacy and unwarranted surveillance.

Such oversight is reasonable. It builds trust and enables police to use new tools to fight crime.

So it was disappointing to learn last week that several police cameras were secretly installed on Seattle City Light poles in the Central District a month ago without City Council approval.

The cameras were installed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which doesn’t need approval under the City Council ordinance. The agency could have been more considerate of local concerns.

A bigger issue is the opacity of Seattle officials who pleaded ignorance when first questioned about the cameras.

The city must be forthright if it wants to build trust and support for the use of potentially intrusive equipment.”

It turned out the installations were authorized by City Light, and the Seattle Police Department is part of a task force using the cameras for an investigation.

Yes, they are not Seattle police cameras. But because the city is part of the task force using them and it authorized the camera installations, this looks like an end-run around the ordinance.

Some Central District residents have requested police cameras in their neighborhood. The city is also seeking surveillance systems that detect gunshots and can be equipped with cameras.

These devices may help combat the sort of gun violence the city’s suffered from lately.

But the city must be forthright if it wants to build trust and support for the use of potentially intrusive equipment.