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San Diego closer to bringing back 'Smart Streetlights,' license plate reading technology

While some raised concerns over privacy, SDPD says the technology is an essential crime-fighting tool
Posted at 7:29 PM, Jul 19, 2023

The City of San Diego is one step closer to bringing back a controversial video surveillance program that uses ‘Smart Streetlights.’

After a 3-1 vote and hours of debate, SDPD was authorized to take the next steps in the process.

According to council member Marni von Wilpert, SDPD is now tasked with finding a vendor and drafting a contract. She says public discussions are going to continue and final approval will need to be voted on by the full city council.

Those against the proposal, which includes ‘Smart Streetlights’ equipped with video and automatic license plate reading (ALPR) technology, raised concerns over privacy and data collection and argued it could disproportionately impact communities of color.

“Law enforcement wants to monitor crime at taxpayers' expense instead of investing in preventative measures to stop crime before it even happens,” said Michael White.

White was among several people who took part in a protest ahead of Wednesday’s city council discussion.

The city first introduced a version of this technology back in 2016, but those 3,200 cameras were ultimately deactivated after public backlash.

Since then, police say they have worked to improve transparency and make adjustments to the technology and overall proposal.

Police argued that the cameras are an essential crime-fighting tool as they face staffing shortages. Adding that the technology will also aid in criminal prosecutions.

“When combined with ALPR technology, Smart Streetlights provide law enforcement with another proven technology to provide leads, collect evidence of criminal activity, and successfully close cases in a very efficient and cost-effective manner,” an SDPD representative shared in a presentation.

SDPD also clarified that the ALPR technology is not the same as facial recognition technology and that all data would be owned exclusively by the city.

Police also showed a diagram of the first 500 planned locations for the new technology, selected after analysis by their investigative unit. You can review that by clicking here.