City to install more surveillance cameras

The cameras that already peer from 14 intersections in The City will have their ranks swollen in upcoming weeks after the Police Department’s civilian oversight body voted Wednesday to support installation of more devices.

The San Francisco Police Commission heard testimony from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice asking for approval of $275,000 worth of new “community safety cameras” at seven intersections in The City. The commission approved six of those intersections, delaying a decision on cameras at 16th and Mission streets until Dec. 6 to allow for a community meeting called for by Supervisor Chris Daly.

The cameras first began to appear last year, when 33 were installed at 14 high-crime intersections citywide. At a cost of $450,000, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice installed the first round of cameras as a pilot program in hopes that the cameras would serve as a deterrent to potential criminals.

But groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are crying foul. Police Practices Policy Director Mark Schlosberg said the cameras violate people’s First Amendment rights and their right to privacy. While they are intended only to capture the images of criminals, Schlosberg said, having the cameras at 24th and Mission streets and 16th and Mission streets would dissuade people from having political rallies at those popular sites.

Opponents of the new cameras also argued that they have not been proven effective. In an open letter to the commission, the ACLU cited a study by the Scottish Office Central Resource Unit that found that cameras had little impact on crime. The cameras’ benefit, Schlosberg said, is not worth their cost.

Many who spoke during public comment said they supported the cameras, however. A woman who did not want her name used summed up the essence of many speakers when she said, “My right to safety is far more important than my right to privacy.”

While some commissioners had reservations about what Commissioner David Campos called a “Big Brother” society, they all supported the cameras in the end.

“As far as I’m concerned, you could put a camera on every single corner of the Tenderloin and it wouldn’t be enough for me,” Commissioner Theresa Sparks said.

amartin@examiner.com

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