The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has installed video surveillance cameras in Seattle’s Central District.
Federal agents have installed two video-surveillance cameras in Seattle’s Central District as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Special agent Brian Bennett of the Seattle Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said Thursday the two cameras — installed on utility poles at 23rd Avenue South and South Jackson Street and 23rd Avenue and East Union Street — went up four weeks ago.
Bennett said the investigation is for the Puget Sound Regional Crime Gun Task Force. The cameras belong to the ATF but the investigation also involves Seattle police, the Washington State Patrol and the state Department of Corrections.
Bennett said the video is stored on a hard drive and is not monitored.
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“Review of the storage is incident-driven” as it relates to the ongoing investigation, which Bennett said he couldn’t discuss. “This is an investigative tool,” he said of the cameras.
He would not say if there are additional cameras installed around Seattle.
An aide to City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the council’s public-safety committee, said Harrell wasn’t told the cameras were being installed.
Harrell may send a letter or introduce a resolution urging federal authorities to keep the council informed about such installations, said the aide, Vinh Tang.
The council passed an ordinance in 2013 prohibiting the installation of surveillance equipment without council notification, but that requirement didn’t apply in this case because the ATF is a federal agency, Tang said.
Officials were asked about the cameras as early as July 7, when a Twitter user posted a photo of one to try to get information from the city.
Bennett said the ATF did not have to obtain federal warrants for the cameras since they were placed in public places where people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
“These cameras are related to a specific investigation. We’ve not acknowledged there are any other cameras we have in use,” Bennett said.
Last month, Seattle police said they had entered into a partnership with ATF to address a recent spike in gun violence.
According to police, there were 204 reports of gunfire throughout the city between Jan. 1 and July 6. During the same period in 2014, there were 168.
Speaking during a news conference, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said police, working with ATF, had linked one gun used in 10 shootings dating back to October 2013.
The bulk of the shots-fired calls in Seattle have occurred in the Rainier Beach, Central Area/Squire Park and Brighton/Dunlop neighborhoods.
The Rev. Harriett Walden, of Mothers For Police Accountability, said last month that her group was calling “for cameras in hot spots with sunset times and sends out a call for volunteers to come forward with information and engage in activities to address the gun violence head-on.”
But surveillance cameras have been a controversial issue in Seattle. In 2013, the city agreed to shutter 30 surveillance cameras purchased with federal dollars and installed along the waterfront after citizens and civil-rights activists protested what they said was an invasion of privacy.
Doug Honig, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the organization was “looking into” the installation of the ATF cameras.
“A concern we have is how this relates to the city’s ordinance governing the installation of surveillance cameras,” he said.