SF Editorial: Cameras important in fighting crime

With homicide rates in San Francisco at their highest levels in more than a decade, residents in many of The City’s most violence-plagued neighborhoods are pleading with city officials to increase efforts to stop the bloodshed.

A new emphasis on security cameras at high-crime street corners could serve as a valuable tool in fighting the troubling wave of violence that has taken scores of young lives in recent months.

The Mayor’s Office has requested funding for 100 new cameras, to add to the 33 cameras that are already in place in the Western Addition, Bayview and Mission districts. Those neighborhoods have been the site of most of the 96 homicides that occurred in The City last year. This year homicides are on pace to reach that mark.

The violence, much of it gang-related, has reached a crisis stage in San Francisco, and despite the best efforts of the Police Department, the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors, it has continued nearly unabated.

While security cameras are not a cure-all, the benefits are clear. An analysis of crime statistics in the period after The City placed the first two of its security cameras in the Western Addition showed a significant drop in crime in those locations.

In Los Angeles, the presence of cameras reduced crime by more than 60 percent in one high-crime area. New York and Chicago are among the many U.S. cities beginning to add the cameras to their crime-fighting arsenals.

Local officials are excited about the potential of the program in San Francisco.

The cameras function most effectively as a deterrent, causing

would-be criminals to exercise restraint in areas where they once operated with impunity. Once a crime is committed, footage retrieved from the cameras provides an invaluable aid for law-enforcement authorities attempting to apprehend suspects.

Though the presence of security cameras inevitably has prompted civil liberties concerns, such questions shouldn’t deter The City from expanding the program.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has proposed legislation that would formalize the process for placing cameras around The City, implement authorization procedures for who can access the data, and establish clear guidelines for how the data could be used.

Those are proper areas for legislation. What mustn’t happen is that the program’s implementation becomes bogged down in minutiae and procedures that tie the hands of law-enforcement officials.

People are dying on San Francisco’s streets, with families being ripped apart and a generation scarred. This is a step that can reduce that terrible toll.

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