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Proposed SFPD surveillance policy garners opposition

A surveillance camera in San Francisco.
Thomas Hawk
Flickr / Creative Commons
A surveillance camera in San Francisco.

The SFPD has proposed a new surveillance policy to guide its use of non-city surveillance cameras. It was initially approved last April by the 18-member Committee on Information Technology. It was also championed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed in light of last fall’s rash of mass retail theft. On Monday, the proposal was presented to the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, which will ultimately decide whether or not to approve it.

Critics of the policy claim that it gives the police sweeping powers to access private cameras for live monitoring – this includes residents’ Ring doorbell cameras or those operated by retail businesses and medical clinics – without adequately defining the real-time “significant event” that would warrant such surveillance.

The ACLU of Northern California is part of a broad coalition of privacy and civil rights groups speaking out against the new policy. They’re urging the Board of Supervisors to oppose or significantly amend the proposal. The ACLU says it represents “an extreme escalation in the police’s surveillance powers,” warning that it will stoke increased inequality and criminalization, without a legitimate public safety benefit.

Mayor Breed’s office told KALW that businesses and residents would need to first agree and grant permissions that authorize police to use non-city cameras – and that such use would only be temporary. They argued the city had strong guardrails against the misuse of technology and video footage to protect people's civil liberties.

Raphael Cohen was part of KALW's Summer Journalism Training Program in 2022. He produces news spots and work for Crosscurrents.