Spokane police are keeping an eye on a longtime problem park downtown.
Downtown officers are able to watch a live feed of a surveillance camera overlooking the Under the Freeway Skate Park at 400 S. McClellan Road, a property that has drawn much public attention because of its reputation as a haven for crime.
Police say it’s an effective tool to keep watch over a problem area. Though city officials said they were unaware of the live camera, law enforcement are authorized to use surveillance cameras on property belonging to the city’s Parks Department without notifying the city, according to a city ordinance related to drones passed last year.
Councilman Mike Allen, who sits on the Spokane Park Board, said he’s joined law enforcement on patrols through the area. Though he was unaware of the camera, he said he supports its use.
“It’s a public area,” Allen said of the park. “Your right to privacy is minimal.”
Police spokeswoman Teresa Fuller said the camera’s monitor is in the local precinct office, where patrol officers fill out paperwork and take their breaks.
“They don’t have anyone assigned to just watch (the monitor),” Fuller said.
A corporal at the precinct last week reported seeing 21-year-old Tyas Kelly on the monitor smoking from a glass pipe and giving what appeared to be methamphetamine to a woman seated nearby. The corporal called another officer, who detained Kelly and took a substance that tested positive as amphetamines and prescription drugs from him. The corporal also responded to the park, according to court records.
Kelly was booked into jail, facing charges of delivery of a controlled substance, use of drug paraphernalia and possession. He is being held on $2,500 bond.
Police spokeswomen described the camera as one of many tools to combat crime in the area.
But it’s a tool that many city officials didn’t realize police had at their disposal.
“I didn’t know there was an active camera,” said City Councilman Jon Snyder, chairman of the city’s Public Safety Commission.
“I don’t know anything about a camera,” said Susan Traver, a Park Board member.
Traver spearheaded the effort to create a transition plan for the park – referred to by the acronym UTF – which was opened by the Parks Department at its current location in 1997. Officials are now looking for a new location for the park because it attracts crime, Traver said.
“The skateboarders, quite frankly, are not the problem,” Traver said. Some portable toilets were put up across the intersection of McClellan from the skate park, and other amenities nearby make it an attractive gathering spot for people roaming downtown.
“It’s not an easy problem to solve,” Traver said.
Fuller said that’s the reason the camera is used by law enforcement, to encourage those who are using the skate park on the west side of McClellan to feel safe, while deterring others from criminal activity. She also said camera surveillance is “nothing new,” and that police have used city cameras in other problem areas before.
An ordinance related to the use of drones that was passed by the City Council in October addressed requirements for installing any new surveillance equipment within city limits. Police are now required to inform the council in writing of any new, permanent surveillance installation. The ordinance exempts camera equipment installed on land belonging to the Parks Department or Spokane Public Libraries.
Leroy Eadie, director of Spokane Parks and Recreation, said the camera at UTF was installed about five years ago by the city. He said he did not know when police began monitoring the camera.
Traver said there are cameras in other city parks, including the Hillyard Skate Park. That camera operates on a motion sensor, she said, and picks up movement after the park’s posted closing hours (either 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., depending on the time of year).
Spokane police spokeswoman Monique Cotton and Fuller said no cameras, other than those in city parks, are actively in use by law enforcement downtown. Police will contact business owners with a warrant to view or copy their own surveillance footage if a crime is suspected, they said.