City touts crime cameras despite ACLU objections

San Francisco officials plan to release the results of a report in October regarding the effectiveness of surveillance cameras that have been installed in the city's high-crime areas, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom's spokesman.

“This is one tool that law enforcement can use to fight violent crime and we believe it is worth a try,” the mayor's spokesman, Nathan Ballard, said.

The 64 cameras already in use have a price tag of $500,000, Ballard said. The city will be installing 25 new cameras in 2008.

Data collected from surveillance cameras has been used in at least six investigations, Ballard said. One arrest has been made definitively because of the cameras.

“We believe the program is working,” Ballard said.

Cities throughout California are working to install such video surveillance cameras on plazas and public streets without regulating them or evaluating their effectiveness, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report.

“We are issuing this report because we are hoping that policy makers will take a step back and question whether this is the road they want to take,” said Mark Schlosberg, police practices policy director of ACLU's Northern California chapter.

The 25-page report looks at the threat video surveillance cameras pose to privacy and free speech, examines law enforcement justifications for video surveillance programs, and reviews the findings from an ACLU public records survey.

“Our main concern is the privacy issue,” Schlosberg said.

“Basically this is doing a great disservice to people who are living in high-crime areas. It is invasive in terms of privacy and ultimately a waste of money.”

Camera programs not only don't reduce crime in the city centers, but putting money into such surveillance actually detracts from law enforcement's efforts to reduce crime, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU says other options like improved lighting are more effective. Studies have shown that the average reduction of crime after lighting is improved is 20 percent.

“That is something video surveillance doesn't hold a candle to,” Schlosberg said.

Police don't agree.

Surveillance cameras that have been installed in San Francisco not only help solve crimes, but they are effective deterrents, Sgt. Neville Gittens said.

Richmond recently approved 113 surveillance cameras that cost $4 million and Pittsburg has at least 13 cameras, Schlosberg said.

— Bay City News

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