Study gives split verdict on crime cameras

In San Francisco, they appear to reduce larceny but not violent offenses

The report raises the idea of using the program more aggressively, perhaps integrating cameras with gunshot detection devices called ShotSpotters or buying so-called smart cameras that are capable of sounding an alarm if a gun is brandished, a fence is jumped, or a person falls down.

The Police Department received the final draft of the report in late December and has been meeting with the Police Commission and the mayor's office in light of the study's findings, said Police Chief Heather Fong. She said her department would now become the lead agency for the camera program, with Lt. Neville Gittens serving as coordinator.

Gittens, who most recently has served as the department's spokesman, will work with the city's technology department to improve the placement of the cameras and the storage of footage in hopes that that the clarity will improve.

Police Department's role

"Different groups have been stepping in to do different things, but there has not been one responsible agency," Fong said. "Since the Police Department is responsible for investigating crime, we feel that it is important to have someone on the front end to make sure the cameras are operating properly."

Newsom said, "I know our camera program isn't perfect, but I am committed to keeping these cameras in place until I hear from the community that they are no longer needed."

In an interview last month, Newsom said he planned to turn off some of the cameras so the rest would have more data storage space with which to operate. He said he remained opposed to active monitoring.

Police Commission President Theresa Sparks said cameras might be better located in hot spots for property crimes.

"The cameras should probably be moved into areas where there have been high incidents of property crime, like the Marina, Union Square and other high tourist areas," Sparks said.

Critics of the cameras said they should be dismantled.

"With homicides at a 10-year high and budgets in a freefall, San Francisco cannot afford to spend its scarce public resources on camera systems that fail to make us safer," said Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.