Pierce Transit buses will have security cameras starting next year

Pierce Transit will start using security cameras on its fleet of 136 buses in March to improve safety for riders and employees.

The transit board voted Monday to spend $2.1 million to purchase and add the cameras. Installation will begin in February and be finished by the end of March.

“I think this is a great move forward because it’s going to enhance safety for everybody,” said board member and Steilacoom Town Council member Nancy Henderson.

But she cautioned that the agency needs to prepare itself for public records requests for security video, as has happened elsewhere with police body cameras.

Alberto Lara, chief administration officer, said Pierce Transit has a records technician in its public safety office that could handle most records requests.

Henderson also said the Legislature should make it possible to reject some public records requests “to screen out those that are doing it for malicious reasons.”

Don Anderson, board member and Lakewood mayor, also voiced concern about the potential costs to the agency of processing records requests for videos, which could require blurring or editing images of bus riders in order to protect their privacy.

Anderson’s city is already dealing with such considerations, as some Lakewood police officers are trying out body cameras.

But Anderson said using cameras on buses is “perfectly appropriate.”

While the use of cameras by police and in jails has raised questions about privacy rights, using them on public bus systems appears to be relatively common.

Pierce Transit says other bus systems in the region — including King County Metro, Sound Transit and Intercity Transit in Olympia — have camera systems on all or part of their fleets.

Each 40-foot-long bus will have 12 cameras, agency spokeswoman Carol Mitchell said. Thirty-foot buses will each have 10 cameras. The recommended minimum for storing video is 30 days, she said.

Mitchell said Pierce Transit has been considering adding cameras for about eight years. But it didn’t want to incur the expense while it was reducing service hours in recent years, she said.

The cameras will capture everything inside the buses — except for bus operators at their union’s request, Mitchell said. Otherwise, Pierce Transit might have had to renegotiate the drivers’ contracts, and that would delay adding the cameras, she said.

The transit board voted 5-0 to authorize Pierce Transit to contract with Apollo Video Technology in Bothell for the purchase and installation of the cameras and related software not to exceed $2,050,391. That amount was included in the 2015 budget the board adopted Monday.

Cameras will be installed on 136 active buses for 40 routes, 30 public safety vehicles and three service supervisor vans. They will not be added to shuttles —at least initially.

Doug Honig, spokesman for ACLU of Washington, said the ACLU hasn’t examined Pierce Transit’s plan to use cameras but he offered some cautions.

“With any government camera, the agency needs to be aware the information it collects could be used to track innocent people’s movements,” Honig said in an interview. “The agency should have very clear policies on who has access to the footage and for what purposes it can be used, and it should not be stored very long unless it deals with an incident of concern.”