South San Francisco will get 31 new surveillance cameras to be placed along Highway 101 and Interstate 280 following an unanimous vote from the City Council approving the new law enforcement measure.
The cameras, called automated license plate readers, have been increasingly installed in the Bay Area with several Peninsula cities recently approving their use. By capturing images of passing vehicles and logging plate numbers, make and color, the technology can alert nearby officers if a vehicle suspected of being involved in a crime is spotted. Officers can also access data after the fact to aid in police work.
“This is the world we are living in,” Council member Mark Addiego said. “It’s horrifying when you read reports about how many people are coming into our city and quite frankly just raising hell.”
The city first looked into adding the cameras last year, citing an uptick in crime near hotels, particularly “smash-and-grab” car break-ins. Councilmember Eddie Flores also voiced concern regarding highway shootings, citing those that have occurred recently in Oakland.
The technology can be used in instances of crimes from homicide to catalytic converter theft but, unlike red light cameras, would not be used for traffic enforcement.
Despite agreeing the cameras would be useful in fighting crime, council members expressed some hesitation surrounding privacy. The move will establish South San Francisco as the city with the most cameras in the county, which currently has a total of 119.
“I come from a time when George Orwell’s 1984 was required reading,” Addiego said. “Apparently we’re there, and there’s something a little bit disconcerting about that.”
While storage practices differ in other cities, data captured by the cameras would be deleted after 30 days unless part of an investigation, and the city would allow data to be shared with other law enforcement agencies only if requested for an investigation. Sharing data with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be strictly barred.
Per a request from Flores, the program will undergo quarterly audits from an independent party to ensure compliance with the city’s rules. A webpage will also be established allowing members of the public to view the volume of data collected and how often it is being accessed by officers.
“We want to make sure that when we do this, we do it right and don’t produce unintended consequences that we might later regret,” Flores said.
According to City Manager Mike Futrell, the city’s guidelines mirror that of soon-to-be proposed legislation from state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which aims to curtail ALPR use. Wiener had last year introduced legislation to require data deletion after 24 hours following a report that some agencies were storing data for up to five years and others had shared data with ICE.
Police Chief Scott Campbell noted the technology carries the benefit of allowing for “completely unbiased” police work, allowing officers to react to crime that has already been committed.
The cameras would likely be procured from ALPR operator Flock Safety, at an annual cost of $2,500 per camera, or $77,500 for the whole city. A one-time installation fee of $250 per camera would also be added in the first year.
The city’s immediate neighbors all have cameras installed with the exception of Brisbane. Daly City is the only city in the county where its cameras are affixed to police vehicles rather than fixed locations.