SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) – San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Tuesday proposed amending a city law regarding the use of surveillance cameras by law enforcement in an effort to improve public safety.
Breed plans to introduce legislation at next week's supervisors meeting to amend the city's Surveillance Technology Ordinance, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2019.
"We want to address the challenges of crime in our city," Mayor Breed said Thursday at a news conference. "Everyone nowadays is carrying around all of these gadgets and phones and in someone's face in the public, anyone who is not law enforcement can see what's going on."
Breed also introduced a ballot measure Tuesday that would allow voters to decide on the amendment in the June elections. The ballot measure would only move forward if the Board of Supervisors votes against Breed's proposed legislation, city officials said.
According to Breed, the amendment is needed in order to allow local authorities to access and use real-time video footage. Under the current Surveillance Technology Ordinance, authorities can only access the footage during emergencies involving imminent danger or serious physical injury to a person.
"Our officers were aware and needed another resource through video to observe the behavior and because of the ordinate could not. There are a lot of things that could have been prevented based on information that we get," she said when asked by KPIX reporter Shawn Chitnis about the proposal.
Breed's proposed amendment would explicitly allow law enforcement to temporarily use cameras to monitor high crime areas and respond to critical events like looting, kidnappings, organized thefts and terrorist acts, among other events.
"We are talking about violent crimes, including property crimes that are being perpetrated more frequently with the use of guns, getaway vehicles and other weapons that can seriously injure or even kill innocent bystanders," Breed said in a statement. "These situations also include entrenched open air drug dealing, again with the use of firearms and other weapons, in neighborhoods where families and seniors are afraid to leave their homes."
"We can give our law enforcement the tools they need, while also maintaining strong oversight and safeguards to ensure these tools are used appropriately to address dangerous criminal activity," she said.
San Francisco police chief Bill Scott is backing Breed's proposed changes.
Although Breed has promised safeguards and oversight for proposed amendments, several supervisors on Wednesday criticized Breed's plan and introduced their own ballot measure to further ensure transparency around the use of surveillance cameras.
Five supervisors announced this week they want to reinforce current law and they plan to bring forward their own ballot measure in June.
"We believe that this makes our government more transparent and actually makes people safer," said District 3 supervisor Aaron Peskin. "I'm very disappointed but the voters are going to have a choice to choose between common sense policy and an exemption for the San Francisco police department."
Peskin was joined by supervisors Chan, Preston, Ronen and Walton in supporting the effort to get SFPD to comply with an existing law on use of surveillance technology. He explained that a law passed in May 2019 required city departments to explain how they use real-time surveillance video. While 30 departments have provided use policies including SFMTA according to Peskin, the police department has not.
"Looting, property crime, violent crime, is absolutely unacceptable. We have tools but the public has a right to know how those tools are used so they are not invasive," he told KPIX on Thursday. "There is nothing in the law that prevents that but they need to say that they're going to do it and they need to say how it will be done."
San Francisco public defender Mano Raju is in support of the supervisors' proposed ballot measure.
"Expanding police surveillance empowers a department that continues to disproportionately target and harm communities of color," Raju said. "San Franciscans have long rejected giving police expansive powers to swoop up more people into a biased criminal legal system. Drug use and economic crimes can't be addressed by expanding the police state; they are prevented by investing in marginalized communities."
The ACLU of Northern California has come out against the mayor's proposal and has endorsed the supervisors attempt to stop it and offer up their own ballot measure. The organization is also suing the city over allegations of police spying on Black Lives Matter activists in 2020, staff said on Thursday.
"They want to gut this law to give themselves unchecked authority to conduct surveillance of San Franciscans. That's not going to make the community more safe," Matt Cagle said on Thursday. He's a staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. "The police could put pen to paper and put forward a proposal for how they think cameras are going to keep San Francisco safe but for three years they've refused to do that."
Cagle said the organization acknowledges there are communities who are disproportionately impacted by crime but believes complying with existing law, as the supervisors are calling on in their ballot measure, is the best approach for police.
"They haven't said when and how they want to use these cameras. They haven't put forward a proposal for how to use them," Cagle said of SFPD. "So I think it's really up to the police to make the case to the public in the existing process for why they think surveillance is going to make the community safer."
Peskin says the SFPD needs to make clear who has accessed the data and how long surveillance video will be stored by the department. Peskin did offer to meet with police to hear their concerns about the issue and remains open to working with the mayor and other supervisors to avoid taking this debate to the ballot.
"The voters will decide because we're talking about the fact that we have major challenges with public safety," Mayor Breed said. "We want to make sure that we are using every tool at our disposal responsibly to keep the people of San Francisco safe and I don't think what I'm proposing in my ordinance is unreasonable in light of everything that's been happening in San Francisco."
© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5's Shawn Chitnis and Bay City News contributed to this report
for more features.