Legal battle erupts over KATU’s request for TriMet security camera records

Legal battle erupts over KATU’s request for TriMet security camera records »Play Video
A TriMet security camera.

PORTLAND, Ore. - It should have been a simple request, but TriMet is refusing to tell KATU whether its 4,400 surveillance cameras that you paid for even work.

KATU On Your Side Investigators have been asking for this information for nearly two months, and the situation has spiraled into a legal battle.

TriMet put out a news release Tuesday night telling the world they kept KATU from finding out if its surveillance cameras actually work. And despite what TriMet is saying, KATU has reason to believe it is close to getting information the agency didn't want you to have.

TriMet executives have repeatedly refused to answer KATU’s questions.

"The camera system is an integral part of our security strategy,” said Harry Saporta, TriMet’s executive director of safety and security. “By revealing that information it may compromise our strategy."

KATU first requested maintenance and inspection records two months ago to find out how many cameras may or may not be working at any given time. TriMet turned down that public records request because it said revealing locations of any cameras that may have problems would compromise security.

KATU agreed and wrote up a new request asking for the maintenance information with the locations of any possible problem cameras left out. And TriMet refused again, but this time it changed its story.

“That's not information that we can share because it's security sensitive," said TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt.

TriMet told KATU the information it want is SSI, a government acronym that stands for Sensitive Security Information. The agency said because its surveillance system was largely paid for by the Transportation Security Administration, it couldn't give KATU the records without that agency's permission.

Problems with surveillance cameras, meanwhile, have been widely talked about by transit authorities in other cities like Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C., and each of them has received TSA or Department of Homeland Security funding.

Public records showed about one sixth of all bus camera systems in Seattle were not working last year largely because they weren't properly maintained, begging several important questions about Oregon's largest public transit agency.

KATU has taken legal action to try to get these records because your safety is just too important.

On Monday, a spokesman for the TSA told KATU the agency is working on giving KATU a “mutually agreeable releasable document" either Wednesday or Thursday.

KATU is still working on this investigation despite TriMet’s denial of its public records request.

KATU has uncovered some big problems with TriMet's surveillance system in federal and state safety reviews.

Don't miss our full report, “TriMet Security Secrets,” Thursday night at 6 p.m. only on KATU News.