The ordinance, backed by the Mayor and the SFPD, enables the SFPD to access live video streams from private non-city cameras for the purposes of investigating crimes, including misdemeanor and property crimes. Once the SFPD gets access, they can continue live streaming for 24 hours. The ordinance authorizes such access by consent of the camera owner or a court order.
Make no mistake, misdemeanors like vandalism or jaywalking happen on nearly every street of San Francisco on any given day -- meaning that this ordinance essentially gives the SFPD the ability to put the entire city under live surveillance indefinitely. [...]
What is this all about? During the hearing, several of the Supervisors talked about how San Franciscans are worried about crime, but failed to articulate how giving police live monitoring abilities addresses those fears. [...] Which leaves us to the sad conclusion that this ordinance isn't really about the safety of San Franciscans -- it's about security theater.
A broad coalition including the ACLU, the Public Defender's Office, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the Council on American Islamic Relations, opposed the bill, saying in a letter to the board that:If the SFPD asked the city to buy thousands of new cameras for live surveillance, residents and the Board would be rightly alarmed. The SFPD's proposal to exploit private surveillance cameras should be met with the same skepticism. [...]
The proposal broadly permits the SFPD to monitor people engaged in a wide array of peaceful activities. Specifically, the proposal dramatically lowers the standard needed for live surveillance by permitting the SFPD to tap into private cameras in response to any violation of criminal law, including misdemeanors. This would encourage the SFPD to cast an extremely large surveillance net to monitor activities completely unrelated to public safety.
This means SFPD can ask for consent to live monitor the hundreds of cameras controlled by a handful of business groups downtown. They've already done so successfully in Union Square, and are likely to get a thumbs up in Fisherman's Wharf and Mid-Market too.
The security camera network would have been funded by a $695,000 grant by tech entrepreneur Chris Larsen [...] Larsen is the co-founder of cryptocurrency company Ripple and mortgage lender E-Loans. Larsen has been gifting security cameras to community benefit districts in the city since 2012, and his network now spans 1,000 cameras. The Castro CBD is the first neighborhood group to reject Larsen's funding. [...]
"Whether or not the public supports the proposal is not the most important question, but rather can this technology achieve the intended goal," said Brian Hofer, executive director of Oakland's Secure Justice. "As a subject matter expert that has extensively researched the use of cameras, I can confirm that these types of cameras have little-to-no statistically significant deterrent effect against the types of crimes identified here."
"You likely saw the Chronicle's article last month about 17 Walgreens locations closing over the last few years, along with a number of CVS stores," added Hofer. "Each of those facilities had dozens of cameras, and most had security guards."
"The lack of results speak for themselves," said Hofer.