Screenshot of Tuesday’s Eureka City Council meeting.


The Eureka City Council reviewed a policy proposal for City-owned security cameras during its regular meeting on Tuesday. The policy proposal seeks to define the uses for City-owned security cameras and ensure the uses align with public interest. 

City staff decided to develop an overarching policy for City-owned security cameras after a partially installed surveillance tower, popularly known as a “Lot Cop,” sparked outrage among community members last month. 

Under the policy proposal, security cameras will be used to identify, apprehend and prosecute offenders and gather evidence for administrative, civil and criminal investigations. The images and video captured by the devices “shall be used for City business purposes only, and never for personal or non-City uses.” Security cameras “shall never be used in areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy” or “to intimidate, harass, or discriminate against any individual or group.” 

One of the most controversial aspects of the Lot Cop is its ability to collect audio. The policy proposal specifies that any City-owned surveillance camera “will never be used to collect audio data from members of the public.” The policy also notes that the devices will not have facial recognition or license plate reading capability.

Councilmember Natalie Arroyo asked who would have access to the security camera footage. City Attorney Autumn Luna said access to the live video footage would be granted by the City Manager’s office but said the feed would not be consistently monitored by staff.

Eureka’s interim chief of police, Todd Jarvis, noted that surveillance footage is typically used to assist an investigation after an incident has already occurred.

“We can go back, look at the footage, track down suspects, and, hopefully, even determine if crimes have occurred or not,” he said. “Oftentimes, these types of cameras are just as valuable to clear somebody of a crime as they are to find somebody and gain prosecution. …There are a lot of things we can use it for but our goal primarily is to be able to identify suspects who have committed crimes.”

Speaking during public comment, Eureka resident Michael Hansen said he was “shocked and infuriated” by the City’s decision to install a surveillance tower in front of the Old Town gazebo and questioned whether such surveillance measures actually deter criminal behavior.

“The purchase of these cameras was a poor decision from the start,” he said. “Rather than act as a deterrent to crime, ongoing monitoring of the general public mostly decreases public trust in the City and law enforcement, and the last thing the public needs right now is any reason to further erode its trust in our institutions. …A far wiser investment would have gone towards actual investing in solutions and solving our homeless.”

Eureka resident Caroline Griffith echoed Hansen’s concerns and called upon the council to take its time in developing a thoughtful and effective policy. 

“There is a lack of evidence that surveillance of public places actually reduces crime,” she said. “…One thing that has been documented is the institutional abuse of surveillance footage. …The one fear that I have locally is that it will be used to discriminatorily target houseless people.”

Following public comment, Councilmember Kim Bergel asked how long the footage will be kept. Data that is not downloaded for City business, such as an investigation, will be deleted after 90 days, Luna said.

“So the only time we would review this material would be if there was a complaint in that 90 days, is that true?” Bergel asked. “…Does it require a report from someone else to look at it?”

City Manager Miles Slattery said the footage would be reviewed “only when necessary and when there’s a reason to do so.”

“This could be a traffic accident, this could be an incident of vandalism that happened in a certain period of time and we could go back to see what happened,” he continued. “…We definitely do not have the staff to sit and monitor cameras in any way, shape or form.”

Slattery reminded the council that the City purchased the Lot Cops because of staffing issues at the Eureka Police Department (EPD). 

“These Lot Cops were brought in by our previous [chief of police] to provide alternative ways to help with staffing and to provide a deterrent so we can address some of these issues,” he said. “…They’ve been extremely effective at the Adorni [Center]. We’ve also used one at [the foot of] Truesdale Street and in a couple of private locations.”

Bergel asked Slattery if he could explain why City staff decided to install a Lot Cop at the Old Town gazebo without first bringing the matter to the public or council for discussion. 

“We chose that location because of calls for service and issues that we’ve had in that location,” he explained. “The decision was made at a staff level, as it was previously for the mobile Lot Cops that we used in other locations. As far as the notification, I’ll take the blame for that. We were looking at this as more of a solution for some of the staffing levels that we have at EPD.”

Councilmember Scott Bauer asked how staff would determine the location of future cameras and whether it would be deliberated by the council or if there would be standards put in place. “We don’t want to get into that tonight, but it’s something to think about in the future.”

Councilmember Leslie Castellano suggested that staff add language to the policy to specify that camera placement will be determined by the volume of calls for service in a given area.

Luna reminded the council that “additional policies will be developed down the road” and warned against “micromanaging” staff.

“There’s got to be some trust for how our personnel is handling these things with this in mind,” she said. “…I hope that there wouldn’t be misuse but if there was misuse, we already have in place personnel policies to address misuse. An additional policy, I’m not saying no to it, but we do have ways to address that already.”

After about an hour of discussion and several suggestions to staff on modifying the language of the policy, the council agreed to return to the matter at its next meeting. The council did not vote on the item.

A recording of the meeting can be found here.