Surveillance camera proposal stirs unease

City wants to quadrup

Staff Writer

As The City plans to place 100 surveillance cameras in high-crime areas, proposed protocols before the Board of Supervisors would give the impacted community a chance to weigh in on the high-tech security devices.

There are already 33 surveillance cameras installed in high-crime areas, including the Western Addition, Bayview-Hunters Point and the Mission, said Allen Nance, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

“The additional cameras will position us to have an impact in deterring crime in San Francisco,” Nance said.

The idea of crime-fighting cameras surfaces as The City struggles to battlethe highest homicide rates in a decade. In 2005, San Francisco registered 96 murders, and to date, The City is on track to hit that number again.

On Monday, Nance told members of the Supervisors’ Select Committee on Ending Gun and Gang Violence that he has requested funding for 100 new cameras. Each camera costs $12,500 to purchase and install. Nance said his office was also investigating whether federal Homeland Security funds could be secured to help pay for the cameras.

The use of surveillance cameras in public areas is controversial and of concern to civil liberties watchdogs. Nonetheless, they are becoming increasingly common in major municipalities, including Washington, D.C., and New York.

San Francisco installed its first public surveillance camera shortly after Mayor Gavin Newsom returned from a trip to Chicago in June, where he researched the Windy City’s use of the devices. Weeks later, two cameras were installed at a public housing project near Eddy and Buchanan streets.

Possible new sites for the cameras include Hallidie Plaza, U.N. Plaza and the Tenderloin, Nance said .

In light of The City’s plan to expand the surveillance camera program, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has drafted legislation to provide for public notice when cameras are proposed to be installed in a community, as well as create a process for approval and create protocols for oversight and access to the video recordings.

Mirkarimi — who represents a district with one of the highest homicide rates — said he created the legislation because he had mixed feelings about the increasing police use of surveillance cameras, but he has been persuaded by research that validates the effectiveness of the devices to deter crime.

“There’s great need for people to feel safer and be safer through the installation of these cameras,” Mirkarimi said. “What makes me uneasy, these cameras could be installed without anysort of due process that at least ensures and affirms civil liberties and protection of one’s privacy.”

While also expressing reservations about increasing the use of surveillance cameras, Mirkarimi’s committee colleagues — Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Sophie Maxwell — gave approval to the proposed legislation, which is expected to go before the full board in two weeks.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Ammiano said. “Still, I’m always uncomfortable with this.”

beslinger@examiner.com

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