Crowd comments on surveillance cameras 

Concerned members of the public packed a City Hall hearing room Wednesday to sound off on a controversial new round of crime surveillance cameras proposed for intersections throughout The City.

At a San Francisco Police Commission meeting so crowded it overflowed into a second room, nearly 100 speakers voiced opinions that represented an almost exact even split regarding the new cameras. The cameras would not be constantly monitored, but police could request their footage in order to identify suspects in crimes.

The 25 cameras, proposed for eight intersections with a total price tag of $275,000, would join 33 already covering 15 intersections in The City. While the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice has promoted the cameras as a pilot program for a new method of deterring crime, they have met with some resistance from civil liberties groups and the public.

Another three cameras proposed at 26th and Shotwell streets were up for approval, but have not yet been funded.

The Police Commission approved the 25 cameras after hearing public comment at its Nov. 15 meeting. However, the criminal justice office decided to renotify and rehear comment because of questions the American Civil Liberties Union and community representatives raised about proper notification.

The City installed the first 33 cameras at a cost of $450,000 before the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance late last year calling for 30 days of notification, a public comment period and approval by the Police Commission before new cameras can be installed.

On Wednesday, speakers called into question the cameras’ effectiveness. The ACLU provided information it had received from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice showing that crime at eight of the intersections under surveillance went up since the cameras’ installation while seven intersections saw a reduction in crime. However, no comprehensive study has been done to examine the cameras’ effectiveness.

"If this is really a pilot program, why hasn’t there been an attempt in over a year to evaluate [the cameras’] effectiveness?" ACLU police practices policy director Mark Scholsberg said.

But those in favor of the cameras indicated that the promise of increased safety outweighed the threat of civil rights violations.

"We’re not taking people’s rights away, we’re putting people’s rights in perspective," said Aleta Carpenter, director of property management for the Chinatown Community Development Center. "When it comes to weighing rights," she added, the right of safety of law-abiding citizens comes first.

The Police Commission was to vote on the proposed cameras after hearing public comment, but the vote came after press time.

E-mail Adam Martin at amartin@examiner.com.

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