Plan for more crime cameras stirs debate 

More than 1,300 crimes were committed last year at the eight sites where an additional 25 surveillance cameras are proposed for placement.

The City currently has 33 cameras, which carry a $450,000 price tag, watching 14 crime-plagued intersections. The City's Police Commission will vote Jan. 17 on eight additional cameras at intersections that last year saw a high volume of reported crimes, including drugs, stolen cars, homicides and robberies.

The cameras have stirred controversy as some city officials and the American Civil Liberties Union say they are not proven effective and infringe on people’s civil liberties.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors supported the use of the cameras as one solution to bring down the high number of killings and violent crime offenses that have occurred in The City during the previous three years.

"We're hoping the cameras will deter criminal activity," said Allen Nance, acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. The cameras restore "a sense of public safety for individuals that frequent these communities," Nance added.

"There are a lot of people interested in trying these cameras and I think that we should," said Louise Renne, chair of the Police Commission.

Commissioner Joe Veronese, however, was not so sure. "The public is being sold on something that is not a real solution to the reduction of crime," he said.

Veronese questioned whether the cameras were worth the price of people’s civil liberties. While they may be a temporary solution, Veronese said he would ultimately like to see them "phased out."

Nance acknowledged that "public safety in high-crime areas can’t solely be left to devices such as crime cameras." The City is looking to other measures to cut down crime such as foot patrols and the establishment of neighborhood watch groups, he said.

Nance dismissed concerns over civil liberties, however, saying that the cameras capture images "any one of us could use and see if we were standing on the sidewalk." Also, he said, "There are a tremendous number of guidelines in place in San Francisco to limit the abuse or misuse of any image that has been captured by these cameras."

Newsom announced in September 2006 that the San Francisco Housing Authority would add at least 70 more cameras to a number of federally-funded public housing sites, which see a higher volume of crime compared to elsewhere in The City. Since the announcement, a total of 68 cameras have been installed at 12 housing sites with the most crime, 22 of them at the Plaza East housing site in the Western Addition, according to Tim Larsen, general counsel with the San Francisco Housing Authority. The housing authority cameras are paid for by federal dollars and are monitored by housing authority staff. "In places where the cameras are installed criminal activity has subsided ormoved away," Larsen said.

If approved by the commission on Jan. 17 the cameras could be up the following week, according to Nance. Preliminary statistics suggest cameras are decreasing crime, but Nance said it is still too early to determine their effectiveness.

The Board of Supervisors adopted a camera ordinance in July 2006 that requires a report of a camera’s effectiveness one year from its installation.

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