The Seattle Times reported this week that The King County Library System is removing security cameras from its libraries, citing patron privacy concerns in handing over video surveillance to police departments. The usual paranoia over government-sanctioned surveillance is present in reader comments on the news article, but so are a majority of disapproving comments from area readers. Combined with displeasure from the Des Moines Police department quoted in the article, the decision seems to be getting little support from the King County community.

Previously, the library system’s policy required police to obtain a court order to access surveillance tapes when a case required evidence from the library cameras. According to Des Moines police chief John O'Leary, that warrant requirement already delayed investigations, but that policy was still better than completely removing the cameras. “If the decision was simply to leave the cameras in and continue under current policy, I'd be happy with that,” O’Leary said.

“We decided the cameras were not serving a purpose and were a point of contention with law enforcement,” said Bill Ptacek, who as director of the county library system has the final say. “We don't want to be in an adversarial relationship. We believe intellectual freedom is the important part, so we got out of the camera business.”

One big issue Des Moines police and online comments have taken is the removal of cameras in the library parking lots, where according to O’Leary, there should be no expectation of privacy. In March of this year, a 77-year-old man was mugged in the Woodmont Library parking lot. Police obtained a court order to access surveillance and arrested a suspect within 15 minutes of viewing the tape.

Cameras outside in a parking lot are a gray area, said Ptacek, but he views the library policy as part of “an important philosophy.” He added that cameras often provide a false sense of security, and there are enough staff members to visually supervise the libraries. “We’re not in the business of surveillance,” he said.

The camera removal is expected to save the library system $30,000 a year in maintenance costs, to which Ptacek said, “$30,000 buys a lot of books.”

Read the full article and comments here.