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News conference turns into confrontation over "smart streetlights"

Posted at 6:19 PM, Jan 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-29 14:18:10-05

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) A news conference about the crime-fighting power of the City's Smart Streetlights ended in a tense confrontation in the East Village Tuesday.

The news conference started with City Attorney Mara Elliott speaking about the benefits of the streetlights.

She spoke outside of the Alpha Project bridge shelter on 17th and Imperial, where Ernest Buchanan, a security guard at the shelter, was shot and killed. Images from a nearby streetlight helped police track down and identify two suspects.

RELATED: Alpha Project security guard shot, killed outside East Village shelter

“To date, police have used streetlight recordings to help solve nearly 250 crimes, including murders, sexual assaults, kidnappings, carjackings, arsons, and hate crimes,” Elliott said.

The Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology, or TRUST San Diego, showed up to the news conference, and publicly criticized Elliott.

"I stand here looking you in the face saying we will not be bullied, we will not be intimidated and you should not have used your position as an elected official to come against community members who are simply concerned," said Genevieve Jones-Wright with TRUST San Diego. "She's letting the police, police the police."

Jones-Wright says there just is not enough oversight when it comes to the smart streetlight. Her group is calling on the city to put an ordinance in place that deals with that. They want the smart streetlights to stop being used until that happens.

"An ordinance that will actually take a look at all of the surveillance technology is what we're asking for," she said.

She's worried data collected from the smart streetlights could be sold to a third party.

Elliott said that will never happen and the data is deleted after five days.

“A small group is telling a bunch of lies about Smart Streetlights to try to shut them down. I may be the only elected official in San Diego who isn’t intimidated by their scare tactics," said Elliott. "But I’m not going to turn my back on a powerful crime-solving tool that removes murderers and rapists from our streets.”

Another concern for the group is a conflict of interest because Elliott owns stock in General Electric, which owns the company installing the sensors. She approved the contract.
After standing by and listening, Elliott stepped in to defend herself.

"I own $18,000 worth of stock and it's in my kids college account," she said. "In order to have a conflict of interest you have to own three percent."

A city council committee is set to discuss the issue surrounding the smart streetlights on Wednesday.