A proposal to allow the San Francisco Police Department to use non-city surveillance cameras is shaping up to be a hotly contested issue, as well as one that will take up more meeting time as it unfolds. fights his way through the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
At its second meeting on the matter on Monday July 18, the Supervisors Rules Committee again delayed action and said it would continue to discuss the matter next week. With supervisors due to hold their last meeting on July 26 before their summer break, that could mean the policy won’t be brought to the full board until the fall.
As The Bay Area Reporter reported last week, members of the Rules Committee are considering a proposal from SFPD Chief William Scott that would amend Chapter 19(B) of the Administrative Code, which outlines requirements that law enforcement agencies the city must comply with before acquiring or using new surveillance. technologies. Currently, police are limited in how they access CCTV footage.
Scott’s proposal would give the SFPD free access to thousands of private surveillance cameras, with permission from the owners, and the right to use the footage as evidence.
After a nearly two-hour hearing on the July 11 topic, committee members voted to pursue the proposal until July 18. (District 1) took over the case this week for nearly an hour and a half, during which Peskin said he was adding three proposed amendments to the mix. These changes would allow police to monitor cameras in an emergency; failing to comply with state laws relating to privacy standards; allow police access to historical images; and limiting information sharing with federal agencies, especially around areas of immigration, and creating something akin to a digital sanctuary.
Copies of the text of the amendments were not available from the Peskin office at the time of going to press, according to Peskin chief of staff Sunny Angulo, but “will be soon”.
Committee members heard more from Scott, however, who highlighted how access to cameras from non-municipal entities could help an already understaffed police force. Positioning cops in one corner to deter or catch drug trafficking, for example, only sends perpetrators to another corner and the SFPD doesn’t have the personnel to follow up, he told supervisors.
“We’re constantly playing this whack-a-mole game,” Scott said. “It’s not an efficient use of resources.”
With cameras, he continued, the SFPD could monitor busy areas with fewer officers. Having footage of the events could help bolster their cases against the suspects.
Questions about which cameras they could access also arose, particularly those of the city’s many community benefit districts that operate hundreds of highly advanced cameras around San Francisco, Peskin noted. CBDs are quasi-urban entities, he said. Where would they fall under these guidelines, he wondered.
The Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District rejected a proposal for surveillance cameras in 2021, as BAR previously reported. After heated debate, a proposal to place more than 125 security cameras in San Francisco’s LGBTQ Castro neighborhood died last June.
During the hearing, Chan cautiously wondered how the new policies, if approved, would be implemented. No one has specified the steps to follow, she said.
“It’s better that we do it right rather than quickly,” she added.
Far more enthusiastic was District 11 supervisor Ahsha Safaí who, although not on the rules committee, had come to watch the proceedings.
Stating how he thought the proposal could benefit the city, Safaí said he objected to putting the question on the ballot saying, “I think it has to go through the process. legislative”.
Having real-time access to crimes as they occur is very important, Safaí said, and he fully supports allowing this to happen in “targeted situations.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation came out strongly against the proposal, with the EFF noting that it would “significantly increase” police oversight powers in the city. The proposal would also allow police to live-monitor what are known as important events, such as political demonstrations and religious gatherings, thus “implicate” people attending these events.
“This concern is far from hypothetical,” according to a statement posted on the EFF website. “The EFF and ACLU of Northern California sued the city after the SFPD used a business district’s camera network to live monitor protests for 8 days following the police killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.”
The ACLU expects the case to be heard in the San Francisco First District Court of Appeals. He lost first in San Francisco Superior Court, as BAR previously reported.
In a telephone interview with BAR after the meeting, Mandelman said he was quite comfortable with the SFPD’s request.
“The things they’re asking don’t seem unreasonable to me,” he said.
When supervisors opened the floor for public comment, many people were waiting to speak. Nearly 60 people lined the phone lines, including several who, supporting police access to private security cameras, addressed the chamber in Cantonese but ended their statements with “Yes! Yes!” Yes !”
Still, the majority – just over half of callers – urged supervisors to reject the proposal, citing concerns about civil liberties. Several called it a “massive overstepping of authority” while one caller warned: “It’s fascism, make no mistake about it.”
Supporters warned that allowing drug dealers to continue selling their wares on the streets was only helping drug cartels, while others cited their own elderly parents who they said now had afraid to leave the safe confines of their home.
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