Some data from tracking devices installed in police vehicles will remain within the department, under the terms of an agreement heard Thursday by the Board of Supervisors. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF to outfit police patrol cars, fire vehicles with tracking devices

Public safety departments among the last in the City to be equipped with telematics

Most San Francisco city vehicles are already required to carry technology designed to track their use, but until recently, the police and fire departments have resisted the monitoring.

But soon that will change.

The Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee approved legislation by Board President Norman Yee Thursday that expands the required installation of the devices to vehicles used by public safety departments like police and fire. They would have until June 30, 2020 to comply.

“Typically, San Francisco leads the nation in setting a precedence, but in this case we are actually behind the curve,” Yee said. “In fact, New York City Police Department has had similar technology for more than 15 years.”

Yee said he brought the proposal back for approval “following more than two years of meticulous research, careful consideration and deliberation with public safety departments.”

Among the agreements with public safety departments is that the data gleaned from the global positioning tracking wouldn’t go to the City Administrator’s Office but instead remain within their departments. Yee said this was agreed to as a security issue. But other vehicle usage tracked by the devices would, such as overall usage and maintenance.

The City Administrator’s Office oversees the city’s fleet.

Capt. Alexa O’Brien told the committee, “We are very much in support of telematics.”

“It can improve our response times of marked vehicles as well as provide our supervisors and dispatch with real time data to make decisions,” O’Brien said.

Yee recalled that he had introduced the 2016 ordinance on telematics installation after noticing “large amount of payouts for lawsuits.”

“Between 2010 and 2014, The City paid $77 million in litigation and lawsuits directly related to our fleet. This is unacceptable. Driving a city vehicle is a privilege, not a right,” Yee said.

There are 1,732 vehicles without telematics installed that would come under the proposed legislation. That includes sedans, pick-ups, SUVs, motorcycles, and three-wheeled carts used by the Municipal Transportation Agency.

The devices collect data constantly around usage, including if a vehicle is idling, if it speeds and its whereabouts, by sending diagnostic data through a cell phone network.

The cost to install the device on these vehicles is about $370,000, according to the budget analysts report. Annual service subscription costs are estimated at $460,000.

There are about 4,000 city vehicles with telematics already installed.

Adam Nguyen, finance and planning director for the City Administrator’s Office, said the information the devices have provided has helped The City “retire 67 vehicles that were underutilized” and reduce speeding incidents by two-thirds.

As previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner, City employees were recorded by telematics driving in excess of 80 miles per hour about a thousand times each month in 2017. That has dropped considerably. There were about 1,200 incidents of driving in excess of 80 miles per hour in September 2017, for example, and that declined to about 500 in September 2018.

Nguyen said that the technology could help improve emergency response.

“If you see every single vehicle or asset that you have and you have calls for service, you can use that information to better, more efficiently dispatch those vehicles for that response or during a major emergency to also identify those vehicles and then deploy them,” he said.

He added, “You can improve driver behavior or identify other issues as well. You can tell whether or not a vehicles lights, sirens have been activated, whether or not the gun has been removed from its holder and other diagnostics.”

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