Port of S.F. to be fortified with cameras

Say “cheese” the next time you visit The City’s waterfront — you may be caught on camera.

The Port of San Francisco will spend $1.5 million of a $3.1 million Homeland Security grant on video surveillance equipment to combat crime and detect terrorist threats on the seven miles of waterfront that it oversees.

The port asked for the camera equipment in a grant request to the federal Department of Homeland Security last year, but was denied. California’s Office of Homeland Security approved it and several other projects in March, on the condition that they be completed by no later than March 2010.

The cameras are intended to battle metal thefts and vandalism, which cost the port “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars” each year, said spokeswoman Renee Dunn.

Both Dunn and Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier hastened to distinguish the port’s new security cameras from The City’s crime-surveillance camera program, which has placed 76 cameras in high-crime neighborhoods. A study by UC Berkeley researchers released in March determined the program moved crime, but didn’t lessen it.

“The cameras at the Port are more like the cameras we’d have at the San Francisco International Airport,” said Alioto-Pier, whose district covers the northern waterfront.

Unlike The City’s cameras, Dunn said, the port’s surveillance cameras will be monitored regularly. However, Dunn confirmed that the Port has only two of its own security guards, so exactly how the cameras will be monitored full-time is not clear.

San Francisco is not the first Bay Area port to install surveillance cameras. The Port of Oakland has a surveillance program that was beefed up after receiving millions of dollars from Homeland Security last year. That port’s spokesman, Robert Bernardo, said the cameras have “worked fine,” though he did not know of a case in which they had actually detected suspicious behavior.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil said a surveillance program “is certainly not part of every port security system,” but is not uncommon.

Alioto-Pier said the waterfront area encompasses the nation’s second most popular tourist destination and is just half a mile from The City’s downtown.

“We have a lot to protect,” she said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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