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San Diego Police try to sell public on crime-fighting perks of streetlight surveillance cameras

Residents raise concerns about technology that city put moratorium on in 2020
Posted at 5:59 PM, Mar 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-06 20:59:10-05

OTAY MESA, Calif. (KGTV) — San Diego Police attempted to sell the public on the crime-fighting benefits of controversial streetlight surveillance cameras Monday.

The police department wants to install 500 new cameras throughout San Diego and use license plate readers.

“The technology with smart streetlights particularly when we had them in the past were a game changer as far as solving violent crime throughout the city,” said Captain Jeffrey Jordon in an interview Monday.

Jordon gave a presentation at an afternoon meeting at the Otay Mesa-Nestor library, which was attended by dozens of residents for and against the technology.

The city already has more than 3,000 of the so-called smart streetlights up but says they are effectively useless due to a moratorium passed in 2020 by the previous mayor. It requires police to obtain a warrant before manually downloading footage from the camera.

The police want to install 500 new cameras and have the ability to get video from them in real time without a warrant, which is what they did before the moratorium.

Some residents weren’t sold on the proposal.

“I will be against the indiscriminate implementation and use of surveillance technology,” said Nancy Relaford, a concerned North Park resident, who’s previously rallied against police surveillance in Chula Vista.

The police department’s plan comes as it struggles to fill vacancies.

“We’ve reached some pretty low staffing levels. Some of the lowest that we’ve (been) seeing in the last 15 years. We look at technology as one way of being a force multiplier. We can’t be everywhere at once,” said Jordon.

He said the department is short about 10 percent of its needed staff and needs 100 detectives alone to fill vacancies.

Jordon said the cameras have been used about 400 times to solve everything from gun crimes, sexual assault, and murder.

Speaking at the library in Otay Mesa, which has a clear visible view of nearby Mexico outside, he tried to quell concerns the data from the smart cameras would be shared with other police agencies.

“We cannot share any data from them with immigration services so nothing with homeland security to take any kind of immigration enforcement.”

Critics of the technology say it violates the privacy of Americans and leads to over-policing of minorities.

Omar Araiza asked several questions and said he left the meeting feeling more positive about the cameras since the city will own the data.

But he doesn’t think the department should be able to proceed with its plan just yet.

“This being such a major concern for the entire district as well as the city I think should be put to a voice.”