In California, a Town Creates Its Surveillance Policy before Cameras Installed

Security cameras are already ubiquitous in businesses throughout the county. But before San Luis Obispo city officials put up any more cameras to record or discourage crime, city committees are crafting a policy to balance privacy and surveillance.

It’s a move applauded by privacy experts.

"Usually cities do it in the reverse," said Beth Givens, director of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "They install the video surveillance first and then they consider setting up policies."

Still, she has reservations about government surveillance, as does the American Civil Liberties Union’s Liz Schroeder, associated director of the group’s Southern California chapter.

They warned that cameras don’t always deter crime, either. In one study, by the University of Leicester in Great Britain, only one of 14 security cameras deterred crime.

San Luis Obispo police cars, park restrooms and the swim center already have cameras as a security measure. The city also used borrowed FBI cameras for Mardi Gras weekend both this year and last.

San Luis Obispo Information Technology Director Bill Statler said a policy would help protect privacy and ensure cameras are effective.

"Before we talk about doing this," he said, "we should look at how we do it, when we should do it and why we should do it."

The draft reviewed by committees regulated access to footage, how images are used, where they are captured and how long the city keeps them.

View the San Luis Obispo city-wide proposed policy on video monitoring.View the San Luis Obispo city-wide proposed policy on video monitoring.

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