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San Francisco | Police State and Prisons

Help Oppose More Government Surveillance in San Francisco -Hearing Wednesday 1/17
by Nora Dye
Monday Jan 8th, 2007 1:55 PM
The San Francisco Police Commission is reconsidering the placement of 25 new surveillance cameras in 8 locations throughout San Francisco. Study after study shows that cameras DO NOT reduce crime - they just move crime from one corner to another. Cameras also threaten privacy and free speech rights. Join the ACLU of Northern California, the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, La Raza Centro Legal, and many others to oppose the installation of more cameras at the police commission hearing on Wednesday, January 17th @ 5:30 PM at SF City Hall, Room 400.
Over a year ago, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice began a video surveillance program with two cameras. That program has now been expanded to over 30 cameras in locations throughout the City with plans for an additional 25 cameras in eight locations. The Mayor’s office has indicated that it plans to seek funding for even more cameras, possibly through grants from the Department of Homeland Security. While originally billed as a pilot program, the program has been rapidly expanded and the City has yet to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the existing cameras.

Video surveillance poses a significant threat to privacy and free speech by allowing the government to track what you are doing and where you are going. Surveillance cameras also impact free speech by chilling protected political and religious expression. The prospect of government surveillance may deter individuals expressing unpopular views from attending demonstrations and speaking out on controversial issues. One of the proposed camera locations is at the corner of 16th and Mission – the site of numerous political rallies including those against recent federal attempts at immigration restrictions. Placement of video cameras may deter similar demonstrations in the future.

Cameras also threaten our right to privacy because camera footage is considered a government record. The California Public Records Act provides for public access to government records, subject to some limited exceptions, none of which apply to records generated by video surveillance cameras in public spaces. This allows the public to access the recordings and has profound implications for privacy.

While such information may appear benign, people could potentially request the information for a whole host of invasive reasons. An untrusting husband or wife wanting to see if their spouse was entering or exiting a home or business that happened to be in range of a camera. An opposing political group that wants to identify members of the opposition who happened to have a rally within eyeshot of the cameras. A candidate for the Board of Supervisors or Mayor who wants to see who is going in and out of a political opponent’s home or office. Privacy rights – even for those engaging in political expressive activity – quickly evaporate under such a system.

Although camera advocates claim that cameras will reduce crime, study after study shows just the opposite. Cameras do not significantly impact the crime rate – especially not violent crime in city centers. The most comprehensive studies have been done in Britain where there are over 4 million cameras and the average person is caught on camera over 300 times a day. There, a comprehensive study of 13 jurisdictions showed that cameras were ineffective in reducing crime or fear of crime.

In the United States, several jurisdictions have used video surveillance cameras, only to be disappointed when crime did not decline. In Maryland, for example, a spokesperson for the State Attorney’s Office told reporters for the Washington Times, that the office has not “found them to be a useful tool to prosecutors...they’re good for circumstantial evidence, but it definitely isn’t evidence we find useful to convict somebody of a crime...We have not used any footage to resolve a violent-crime case.”

One effect that has been demonstrated by some of the camera studies is displacement of crime from one community to surrounding areas. Individuals engaging in criminal behavior may just move to the next corner or a side street, making those areas more dangerous.

Additionally, video surveillance funding takes away money from more effective programs such as improved lighting, foot patrols, and other community policing measures. Improved lighting alone has been shown to reduce crime on average by 20%, including violent crime. Increased foot patrols have achieved similar results.

Please join the San Francisco Bay Guardian, La Raza Centro Legal, the ACLU, Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, National Lawyers Guild, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Idriss Stelley Foundation in opposing the placement of more surveillance cameras in San Francisco.

VOICE YOUR OPPOSITION IN PERSON!
ATTEND THE S.F. POLICE COMMISSION MEETING
SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL, ROOM 400

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 17TH @ 5:30 PM

For more information, please call the ACLU of Northern California at 415-621-2493 or visit the ACLU's video surveillance page

DOWNLOAD AND CIRCULATE THE PETITION! Help gather signatures to show the Commission that the community opposes the increased use of surveillance cameras.