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Public hearings and oversight
to preceed community camera installations

A community camera is installed in San Francisco's Western Addtion neighborhood
on 7/29/5. Due to concerns of potential governmental misuse,
public oversight requirements are being considered.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Aldrich M. Tan

May 15, 2006

The Select Committee on Ending Gun and Gang Violence passed an ordinance at its Monday hearing that regulates the installation of community safety cameras.

33 cameras have been installed since last June, said Allen Nance, director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. The first camera was installed in the Western Addition's Buchannan Mall. Additional cameras have been installed in Bayview Hunters Point and Mission districts.

The department is receiving requests to install cameras in the Tenderloin area, on Market Street, and at Hallidie Plaza and United Nations Plaza. Nance requested the installment of 100 more cameras in the city.

Sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, the amended ordinance will establish public oversight over the process of installing of community cameras through public hearings and signs announcing such installments.

"While there is great need and demand for installation of cameras, this should also be a community partnership so the community doesn't feel like it is something that is being imposed on them," Mirkarimi said.

After the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice recommends the installation of a surveillance camera, the police commission will conduct a public hearing, deputy city attorney Cheryl Adams said.

The Department of Information and Telecommunication Services will post a minimum of four signs close to the proposed camera location that will announce the public hearing at least 20 days before the police commission makes a decision about the camera installment, Adams said.

After the camera's installation, the department will install a sign within 25 feet of the camera's location stating that the area is under camera surveillance, Adams said.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano said the new signs should also be bilingual to increase the awareness of the cameras' presence.

"For example, cameras installed in the Mission District should have signs with the words in Spanish," Ammiano said. "I would also like to see the incorporation of a universal symbol for the cameras' presence, like an eye."

Nance said the department is interested in looking into Ammiano's request.

"We will certainly look at the universal symbols for videotaping," Nance said. "Perhaps the symbol is a camera itself."

Nance said the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice supports the camera approval process.

"The mayor has made it clear that we will not install cameras in places where there is no public support," Nance said.

Jeremy Pollock, League of Pissed off Voters member, said he supports the legislation.

"People do feel safer when there are cameras around," Pollock said. "Establishing a public surveillance system is a good preventative measure as long as the public is aware of it."

The committee passed the amended ordinance, which the Board of Supervisors will hear next Tuesday.

"My community's concern was the police installing cameras without a public process to direct such installments," Supervisor Sophie Maxwell said, "but that issue has been resolved."

Nance said the next camera request should occur within 30 to 45 days after the Board of Supervisors approves next year's budgets. Each camera costs $12,500, which includes installation and maintenance of the cameras.

"We certainly don't want to put price on public safety," Nance said, "Once these cameras are installed, they are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The cameras are a very good long-term investment for the city."

Nance said the elongated process may slow down the installation of community cameras.

"The potential of slowing down camera installation is certainly present," Nance said, "but we need to weigh that against the civil liberties of the public. The cameras will only be most effective when the community supports them as tools for stopping crime."

Children play in full view of community camera sentries
installed in the Western Addition's Buchannan Mall.




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