Board votes to regulate police cameras

While acknowledging that some residents of high-crime neighborhoods are calling for police surveillance cameras, members of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors also expressed concern over potential privacy risks before unanimously passing legislation that regulates the installation and the use of the crime-fighting tools.

San Francisco installed its first surveillance camera last June, and there are now 33 of the high-tech security devices installed in various parts of The City, including the Western Addition, Bayview-Hunters Point and the Mission District. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice has budgeted for an additional 100 cameras, proposed for areas including Halliday Plaza, U.N. Plaza, Market Street and the Tenderloin.

The legislation, authored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, recommends that approval for any new cameras be put before The City’s Police Commission, which would be required to hold a public hearing on the matter. In addition, San Francisco’s Department of Information and Telecommunication Services will be required to post a minimum of four signs close to the proposed camera location announcing the public hearing.

The department will also be required to install a sign within 25 feet of a camera’s location notifying passersby that the area is under camera surveillance.

Although increasingly popular in cities throughout the nation, the use of surveillance cameras in public areas is controversial and of concern to civil liberties watchdogs. Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said he had “grave concerns that we’re going down this road” and noted that such surveillance is at odds with a citizen’s right to a “presumption of innocence.”

McGoldrick also asked for evidence that the cameras actually deterred crime, and didn’t just “play a domino game” that moves crime from one area to another as criminals become aware of the placement of the cameras.

Mirkarimi — who represents a district with a high rate of homicides — noted that his legislation also requires the Police Department to provide the board with an annual report that identifies the camera locations, as well as crime statistics for the vicinity surrounding each camera before and after it is installed.

While expressing his own mixed feelings about the increasing police use of community surveillance cameras, Mirkarimi noted that he has been hearing “overwhelming support from people who feel these cameras will make a difference.”

“Now if it does cause crime to move around the corner, then we’re stuck in a ‘Brave New World’ of having to put cameras everywhere potentially,” said Mirkarimi, adding that that’s why it was important to have some accountability protections in place.

In Other Action

Political contributions rule, campaign finance rule passed: Elected officials will now have to report who gave them travel money for such things as out-of-state “junkets” and “fact-finding missions” before taking the trip if the contribution is more than $500, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved. The board also passed a rule prohibiting candidates running for city office from accepting money from corporations. The rule change is an attempt “to get corporate money out of the landscape of politics,” Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said.

First ban on two toxins found in baby accessories passed: The ban prohibits all products for children under 3 years of age from being made or sold in The City if it contains bisphenol A, an ingredient used in clear plastics such as baby bottles, and phthalate, a chemical sometimes used as an adhesive in baby books. Studies show the toxins may cause asthma, behavioral problems, allergies.

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewsCrimeCrime & CourtsLocal

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