Bad light, cameras — no action in S.F. 

More than 170 surveillance cameras that monitor San Francisco’s crime-plagued public housing sites are having little effect, with no footage leading to the arrest of homicide suspects.

About a year ago, Mayor Gavin Newsom stood with San Francisco Public Housing Authority officials at the Plaza East housing projects in the Western Addition to announce that federal dollars would pay for at least 50 more cameras at public housing sites to help deter and combat crime.

To date, however, the cameras have only assisted the police in two cases — neither of which were homicide cases — despite the fact that about one-third of The City’s gun violence occurs on or near public housing sites. The public housing sites and the 178 cameras are under the control of the federally funded San Francisco Public Housing Authority, but the local police can access the footage.

"The jury is in on this. It’s not working," Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said during Monday’s Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee hearing on the effectiveness of the cameras.

Mirkarimi said there is a need for improvement "just so we are not lulling people into a false sense of security."

In 2006, there were 17 homicides committed on public housing sites, according to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. In the first five months of 2007, the Plaza East public housing site, which has 22 cameras, saw one homicide, and Sunnydale, with eight cameras, saw two homicides.

Tim Larsen, an attorney for the San Francisco Public Housing Authority said the cameras are a "work in progress," and that many of them were installed in fall 2006, and just two weeks ago, footage from a camera helped identify a suspect who walked into the 25 Sanchez housing site and robbed a woman.

Members of the San Francisco Police Department request footage of the public housing sites’ cameras "on the average of once every two weeks," according to Larsen.

But apparently the footage is not resulting in arrests.

SFPD Lt. John Murphy said that "most of the time these crimes are committed at night, so the quality of the picture is very poor."

Larsen acknowledged that many of the housing project’s cameras are not top-of-the-line.

"For perimeter areas, sometimes we don’t use the high-resolution cameras," he said. "They are quite expensive."

"We need to improve the system," he said. "There is no doubt about it."

Larsen said the housing authority is analyzing the cameras’ effectiveness and will present the findings to the committee. He added, "You can’t do a statistical analysis of the crimes that were prevented as a result of the cameras being present."

The City has its own surveillance camera program, with 64 cameras monitoring 22 crime-plagued intersections. A report about the effectiveness of these cameras is due out this fall.

Supe seeks more murder convictions

The Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office need to work together to improve The City’s homicide conviction rate, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, chairman of the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee, said Monday.

Since 2004, San Francisco has seen 335 killings, but only 72 cases have been prosecuted.

"We’re governed by the evidence that is brought forward. We can’t manufacture it. We can’t create it," Chief Assistant District Attorney Russell Giuntini said.

This year, there have been 66 homicides, putting The City on pace to have a fourth-consecutive year of a historically high number of homicides. There were 88 homicides in 2004, 96 in 2005 and 85 in 2006.

In 2006, the District Attorney’s Office was presented with 21 homicide cases in which arrests were made of those involved in that year’s 85 homicides, according to statistics from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

There were four other homicide cases with arrests that were cleared, such as through federal prosecution or the suspect had died, statistics show. Of the 21 cases, the district attorney prosecuted 20, resulting in four convictions with the rest pending, according to statistics. During 2006, the Police Department arrested 39 suspects for homicides that occurred in 2006 or in prior years, statistics show.

Lenore Anderson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, pointed to a variety of efforts to ensure more homicide cases are prosecuted, including the hiring of three new homicide investigators, bringing the total to 19.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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