Storage of footage hinders crime cameras

The City’s 74 crime cameras are running on low bandwidth — rendering them practically useless in court cases — because the Department of Emergency Management doesn’t have enough storage capacity to retain high-quality footage, city officials said.

Footage has helped only in the prosecution of two crimes despite police having pulled 78 different clips since the inception of the program, police Chief Heather Fong told the Police Commission on Wednesday night. She said police have been working with The City’s information technology department to adjust the focus of the cameras.

The City’s technology director, Richard Robinson, said the digital cameras are capable of a much higher frame rate, but because of the limitations on storage capacity due to a “small budget,” they run at a much slower speed. He added that each camera costs an average of $16,000 to install and maintain.

But the cameras help in other ways beyond prosecuting in court, according to police Lt. Ernie Ferrando of the gang task force. He said the department often gets leads and knows where to deploy officers using the tapes. He did admit, however, that there were issues with the clarity of the footage.

“We need cameras that we can see better with, obviously,” he said.

When the last batch of cameras was approved in January 2007, commissioners called for an evaluation from the Mayor’s Office after a year. That report is still pending and City Administrator Ed Lee apologized for the delay, promising a report, conducted by a UC Berkeley research group, on March 20.

Commission members suggested that the District Attorney’s Office, the public defender’s office and even jurors should play a part in any report evaluating the cameras.

But Commissioner David Campos, who voiced concerns about the cameras a year ago despite voting to approve them, said waiting for a report when there are questions related not only to the effectiveness of the cameras, but of privacy concerns as well, is a bad idea.

“We should consider shutting them off until we know for sure if they’re working,” he said.

bbegin@examiner.com

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