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SDPD: How 'Smart Streetlight' surveillance technology would be used

Posted at 6:18 PM, Jul 25, 2023

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) — After a Public Safety Committee vote last week, the city of San Diego is one step closer to bringing back a controversial video surveillance program that uses ‘Smart Streetlight’ technology.

ABC 10News sat down with SDPD to learn more about how the new version of the surveillance program would work.

“If there’s a homicide or a carjacking…if it happens under a Smart Streetlight, we’re going to have some pretty important data points,” said Charles Lara, Acting Captain, Special Projects/Legislative Affairs with SDPD.

Lara says under the new program, 500 streetlights would become equipped with high-definition cameras paired with automated license plate reading (ALPR) technology. The cameras would be recording 24/7, although the data would only be stored for a limited amount of time and would be exclusively owned by the city of San Diego.

“It’s really going to supercharge the ability of investigators to get great evidence and workable leads immediately,” said Lara.

SDPD says Smart Streetlights are an essential crime-fighting tool, especially as they face staffing shortages. Captain Lara says the department is currently down about 200 patrol officers and 109 detectives.

“These cameras help us do our job in a more economical and efficient manner,” he said.

The city first introduced a version of this tech back in 2016, but those 3,200 cameras were ultimately deactivated after privacy concerns were raised.

Critics of the cameras argue communities of color would be disproportionately impacted and the tech would record crime rather than working to prevent it in the first place.

A group of protestors raised their concernsahead of last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

SDPD clarified that the cameras are not equipped with facial recognition software. If ultimately installedin the 500 proposed locations, determined by SDPD’s crime analysis team, Captain Lara says the technology could help prosecute criminals and on the flip side, help exonerate the innocent.

“I want victims to get closure, to get justice. I also want suspects to be held accountable,” he said.

Lara also pointed out the technology would work both ways: in addition to keeping everyday people accountable, the cameras would also keep law enforcement accountable by recording policing in action.

“It’s going to be able to, for better or for worse, show you...this is what happened with greater context than a body-worn camera," he said.

The program is estimated to cost $3.5 million. The full city council is expected to vote on the camera proposal on August 1st.