Alright, Seattle, you finally made me do it. You backed me into a corner, put a gun to my head and forced me to write this damnably terrible article. Why, you ask? Wasn't it implicit? Well, since you're making me write this anyway...
Surveillance cameras. I can already hear you crying, "Wait, you mean, you're seriously questioning the existence of these harmless little safety devices?" Yes, dumbass, I'm writing about those little black domes that are popping up across the city like a bad case of crusted Norwegian scabies. Harmless, you say? Well, scabies is harmless in the first three or four weeks before the mite eggs hatch and begin to spread. In your standard, garden-variety scabies, you will typically only have 10-15 females living on your body which can be killed relatively easily. But you might not even know you have a case of Norwegian scabies until your body is covered with colonies of thousands of mites creating hard scabs that make it nearly impossible to extract the parasites.
Surveillance cameras, I have learned, are incubated and spread much the same way as crusted Norwegian scabies. As with scabies, it usually begins with a single, egg-laying female. In the case of the cameras, this is usually a singular or series of safety complaints that make their way all the way to the top, eventually resulting in an over-zealous city employee frothing at the mouth for a new set of surveillance cameras. Oftentimes, a complaint may be made by an employee of a surveillance camera vendor posing as a member of the general public.
In scabies, the first warning signs are usually a few small, black shiny pimples sometimes accompanied by grey, red or black track marks that indicate burrowing. With surveillance cameras, the diagnosis is identical - making it occasionally difficult to differentiate between the two. In both, after the eight week incubation period, a sufferer of the condition will typically see a dramatic increase in the number of these black pimples, as they house the mite larvae of sarcoptes scabei. While scratching can destroy singular burrows, this usually exacerbates the situation and can cause severe infection around the sites of the itching, allowing the mites to spread further while you sleep. After the Seattle City Council rolled over and played dead, Mayor Greg Nickel's new favorite sexually transmitted disease, surveil scabei, was spread across the city nearly overnight.
Scabies typically affects children, the elderly or those with acute immunological conditions such as HIV/AIDS most severely. Apparently, Seattle mostly falls into the latter category - though children are frequently used as justification and the logic behind the cameras' installation and purpose is the typical, soft-headed variety of an elderly Alzheimers patient. Our collective immune system failed to respond to the initial invasion of these parasites and we have now progressed to a much more severe infection.
Not satisfied with the scope of his already illegal Parks Surveillance Program in Cal Anderson, and having nothing in his way to stop him from doing so, Mayor Nickels predictably decided to expand the program to Victor Steinbrueck, Hing Hay and Occidental Parks. There are full plans to expand the program to all of Seattle's parks after the 21-month evaulation period is up. The most intense itchiness in scabies typically occurs at night, when males leave their burrows and roam the body searching for food. As if completely bypassing public consent wasn't enough for the thick-headed proponents of this legislation, they are now attempting to block any and all further public review from the process. One of the nastier components of the legislation is Municipal Code 18.14, which eliminates the public meeting process for reviewing the installation of more cameras - and that's just the very tip of the scab.
As I sat through the Seattle City Council Parks & Recreation special session on May 30th, 2008, I couldn't help but think I didn't have enough money. Judging by the combined pay rates of the Board, the ostentatious wealth of the Council Chamber and the amount of money invested into the program - over $2 million - I figured I'd need a cool billion for them to perk up and listen. Of course, not that the entire amount of my savings account and everything I own could amount to even a tenth of that, but hey, a man can dream.
I think I reached the site of the infection too late, because the special interests that are driving this legislation were invited to sit at the round table with the city council and chummily pass just about every amendment they wanted entirely without public approval. I wonder, how can anyone in their right mind believe that two minutes can legally count as a legitimate public comment period? The Council clearly had no interest in what the public had to say on this issue, and I heard nothing but dead air in response to the slough of questions I had to jam into that brief time period. Council member Licata did his typical posturing when he came late to the meeting, but ultimately provided no serious questions or opposition to the program. The rate at which amendment after amendment to the program were passed was very difficult to keep up with, and I will not likely have another opportunity to see the details in their full, gory glory. Frighteningly enough, there was even an amendment in the legislation that states that even if protocols are violated, video evidence may still be admissible in court.
It seems that this program, along with many others, is the proverbial well-intentioned paving the road to hell. Towards the end of the meeting, Councilman Rasmussen mentioned that there was an addendum thrown into the legislation which stated that any action taken after the passage of the ordinance and before the evaluation period is "automatically ratified for expedience." It was not clear whether or not this ended up being passed, but the entire meeting left far too many questions that were not asked or answered. I cannot count how many times various members of the surveillance committee mentioned that they wanted the process sped up. One Parks Department employee even said, "Anything you can do to help us accellerate the installation of these cameras would be great." Damn. Haven't these people even heard of a reach-around?
Alright, here we go. If we truly have "nothing to hide," as the idiosyncratic saying goes, then wouldn't it be presumptuous to assume that we do? Why does the very public who is funding these cameras not have the right to choose whether or not we wish to be watched in our own public-funded parks? Why are they being installed with such speed and secrecy? As these cameras are passively collecting evidence which may be admissible in court, have we truly addressed the Fourth Amendment implications of bypassing the warrant process? If the private companies selling, installing and maintaining these cameras for the city are profit-oriented, then would not crime reduction be a direct conflict of interest to their bottom lines? More importantly, what actual crimes do these cameras prevent? Is this truly a causal relationship, or one of correlation? Just because there are statistics which can correlate the installation of these cameras to a reduction in crime, this proves absolutely nothing in terms of causality. Surveillance does not equal security. There is no empirical data which can prove a direct, causal relationship between the use of surveillance cameras and an actual, measurable reduction in crime.
Even if there were an empirical method of measuring a quantifiable reduction in crime, would that not then fulfill the cameras purpose and warrant their removal? When will they be removed? How can we even be certain that they do not simply move crime elsewhere? Are we seriously thinking of putting these cameras up indefinitely? Fuck, I'm just getting itchier and itchier thinking about it. All those little black eyes popping up all over the city, assuming we're up to no good and determined to do what's best to save us from ourselves. Greg Nickel's list of moving target justifications has ranged from vandalism to prostitution, but it doesn't hide the fact that at the end of the day, he just wants to watch us. Don't mind that eye over your shoulder, it's for your own good. Itchy? Well, the good news is that scabies is curable. You just have to kill all the mites.