The wildly controversial SFPD live monitoring of private security cameras is now official San Francisco city policy, as the Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 to allow SFPD to monitor those security cameras all over town in real time.
The proposed expansion of SFPD access to surveillance cameras all over town has been such a thorny proposal that Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s compromise measure for whether and how SFPD can access that footage has been stuck in a subcommittee for most of the summer. It’s been delayed and booted to the next week’s committee meeting nearly every week since July. And when this SFPD camera surveillance measure finally made its way to the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the matter was delayed again by two-and-a-half hours, presumably because Peskin and Supervisor Hillary Ronen were still working on amendments to the thing.
But SFPD got their live monitoring access to those cameras, as the Board of Supervisors approved the measure last night in a 7-4 vote, per the Chronicle. The measure allows SFPD live access to privately owned security cameras without a warrant, for up to 24 hours, in the circumstances the Chronicle describes as “to respond to a life-threatening emergency, to decide how to deploy officers during a large event with public safety concerns, and to conduct a criminal investigation if allowed for in writing by a captain or higher-ranking SFPD official.”
Supervisors Connie Chan, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen, and Shamann Walton were the only votes against the measure.
This measure was Peskin’s baby, and a compromise meant to avoid having two dueling ballot measures on the matter. He described it Tuesday as a way “to allow law enforcement to, with rules, utilize certain technologies to make San Francisco safer.”
His amendments include “a 15-month sunset,” so the board can revisit this thing and even discontinue it a little over a year from now. He added that the live surveillance must be “voluntarily agreed to by third parties,” which would be individual SF residents with a Ring or Nest doorbell, shopkeepers, or in most cases, the Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) that operate the majority of the private security cameras monitoring the city.
And giving cops access to the cameras without a warrant was widely supported on the board. “The public is demanding that we do take a more proactive approach to public safety,” said Supervisor Catherine Stefani. ”It’s not a fantasy that we are short police officers. It’s not ‘copaganda,’ and all of what’s been said. It’s numbers.”
Yet Supervisor Dean Preston called baloney on that claim. “When I hear about understaffing, I realize we as a body handed $50 million extra in increases to the police department this year, with no real showing of need, because they were so supposedly understaffed,” he said Tuesday. “Now that same reasoning is not only do they have to have the extra $50 million extra to staff up, but they have to have dramatically expanded surveillance rights because they’re theoretically understaffed. That really doesn’t resonate with me.”
Ronen introduced a few amendments that hoped to rein the thing in, like independent audits, changes to the monitoring of live, large events, and limiting the surveillance to only life-threatening crimes rather than common misdemeanors. “I have a major issue with the misdemeanor part specifically. I think that’s problematic for a million reasons,” she said at the meeting. But her amendments failed 7-4, along the exact same vote as the passage of the measure.
The debate lasted about an hour and a half, with several supervisors referencing SFPD’s spotty record of responsibility with evidence.
“I know the thought process is ‘Just trust us, just trust the police department,’” Walton said before the vote. “But the reality is people have been violating civil liberties since my ancestors were brought here from an entirely completely different continent. This police department used the DNA of a rape victim to make an arrest on the rape victim. So this whole ‘Just trust the police department,’ I don’t know where we get that from.”
But Supervisor Myrna Melgar summed up the uneasy alliance. “I don’t always trust our police department. But I think the issue here is not to restrict surveillance technology, it is to reform those aspects of our policing,” she said, before voting yes. “The steep rise in property crime did cause several businesses to go under.”
According to the Chronicle, the policy will go into effect “likely in November.”
Image: Japantown CBD