San Francisco crime cameras approved
despite privacy concerns
By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service
January 18, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The San Francisco Police Commission
voted unanimously to approve the placement of 25 security cameras
throughout the city Wednesday night despite an outpouring of public
sentiment that surveillance would violate privacy rights.
The approval, which carried with it a number of amendments and
stipulations, came after nearly five hours of comment from a vivid
cross section of residents from the city's Mission, Tenderloin
and South of Market neighborhoods.
And though the more than 50 speakers who shared their thoughts
with the commission gave varying reasons for their thoughts, the
sentiments came down to only two passionate positions: no or yes
to the installation of surveillance equipment in high crime areas.
"Government invasion is already at an all-time high and
this technology can be abused," said Vincent Pan, executive
director of Chinese for Affirmative Action. "Public safety
is of the utmost importance, but we can do better than this."
Pan echoed the sentiments of several opponents that choosing
"high crime areas" such as the intersection of 16th
and Mission streets would unfairly target poor and minority residents
of the city.
"We're against the cameras because the benefits are not
proven, and the costs, historically, have been borne by minority
communities," he added.
Allen Nance, who recently handed in his resignation as director
of the mayor's office of criminal justice, reiterated a presentation
that he made in November in support of the cameras.
He said the cameras would not be a panacea to all of the city's
crime woes, but it would present an invaluable tool for officers
trying to solve cases.
Director of Criminal Justice Allen Nance
Several residents agreed, including a group of residents who
wore name badges labeled in black marker with the phrases, "stop
crime" and "save lives."
One of those residents, T.J. Walkup, expressed concern that either
he or is girlfriend could very easily be assaulted as they walk
home in the early hours of the morning.
"I would want someone to be a witness," Walkup told
the commission. "I think you need to give people a fighting
But lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have been
fighting the installation of the cameras for years, saying they
would not only infringe on individual privacy but chill the right
of people to conduct political demonstrations.
The commissioners specifically addressed those concerns when
they tacked on a number of amendments to their vote. One stipulation
would require the Police Department to turn the cameras off whenever
a permitted demonstration was planned at one of the camera sites.
Commissioner Joe Veronese said that stipulation would not amount
to much considering the Police Department videotapes demonstrations
on a regular basis. Veronese also expressed concern that under
a court order, video files could be turned over to any agency
such as the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"We are a sanctuary for immigrants," he said. "There
is nothing to protect people living here who are immigrants."
Commissioner Joe Alioto-Veronese
The commissioners added on an extra provision to insure that
the video data is destroyed after 14 days and that it doesn't
fall into the wrong hands. Also, the commission mandated that
a comprehensive report be conducted after a year of the camera
program, with the ability to discontinue the program if it doesn't
Nance did not provide comprehensive numbers for the commission
tonight, but he did say there have not been a number of arrests
due to the 33 cameras that have already been installed for over
"I am aware of one incident that has resulted in an arrest,"
Commissioner Theresa Sparks provided the most support for the
"I drove a cab for three years in San Francisco and when
they installed cameras in the front of cabs, I was thrilled,"
Sparks said. "The same thing with Muni... I think many people
are pleased with having cameras on busses. I've said it before;
I'll go on record tonight. I'm very supportive of these cameras."
Police Commissioner Teresa Sparks (left)
Two politicians who have weighed in on the debate were unable
to attend Wednesday night's meeting, but both issued statements
before the meeting began.
"I applaud the commission's willingness to move forward
on this vital public safety initiative," Mayor Gavin Newsom
said. "I am pleased with the vigorous public discourse and
the clear, strong community support to expand our safety camera
program. The quality of life and safety of residents in our most
troubled neighborhoods is and remains our highest priority."
Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the Tenderloin, Mission
and South of Market neighborhoods disagreed with the placement
of cameras in his district.
"Based on reports from the ACLU, we are concerned that the
cameras will only give people a semblance of safety and will in
fact move crime a half block away rather than deter it outright,"
wrote Daly's office in a letter to the commission.
Supervisor Chris Daly
"We are also concerned about the chilling effect the cameras
will have on everyday people congregating in the public spaces
and around the BART plazas. This is especially problematic for
many Latino residents for whom public plazas are a key component
to social life."
Daly and Newsom will both have the opportunity to comment on
the commission's amendments when the recommendation comes to their
desks. At Wednesday night's meeting, Commissioner Joe Marshall
did not attend and Commissioner Yvonne Lee left early to catch
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