Mixed reaction to ATF surveillance cameras in Central District

KING 5's Elisa Hahn reports.

SEATTLE -- Two surveillance cameras in Seattle's Central District have sparked a lot of conversations.

Privacy advocates are upset and so are some city leaders. But many of the residents who actually live in the neighborhood welcome the cameras as a crime-fighting tool.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) admit to installing the cameras for an ongoing multi-agency investigation.

At 23rd and Jackson, you can see all kinds of cameras looking downward. But the one getting all the attention is this camera overlooking the Walgreens parking lot.

Randy West has lived in the Central District all his life.

"If it's anything to reduce crime, I'm for that," he said.

"I got young kids at home," said Elayne Smallwood. "I'm for anything to protect them and protect the community."

Those thoughts echo the concerns of a group of black leaders who spoke out a month ago, asking the city for more surveillance in high crime areas.

But at 23rd and Union, where another ATF camera looks down on a parking lot, a group of young men were a bit less understanding.

"I feel like they're watching us and we're being judged," said Carl Taylor. "Never knew I was on camera. They don't announce things like that, put up posters and say 'Hey, you're on camera.'"

For a city that has had a rocky lift off when it comes to surveillance cameras, even a recent rise in gun violence won't convince some privacy advocates to give in.

"I think that we ought to still push for transparency in the organization doing this sort of surveillance," said Lee Colleton, one of the founding members of the Seattle Privacy Coalition.

But many in the Central District seem to be warming to the idea.

"If you doing the right thing, who cares who is watching you," said Smallwood. "All they going see is you doing right thing."

The cameras are attached to Seattle City Light poles. Given some of the fallout from these cameras, the public utility says there will be some discussion about how the cameras are installed in the future.

Public Safety Chair and Seattle Council Member Bruce Harrell says he did not know about the cameras and plans to address some of the issues surrounding them next week.


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