In a 7-4 vote on Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors agreed to test Mayor London Breed’s controversial plan to overhaul the city’s surveillance practices, which will allow police to access private security cameras in real time.
Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Aaron Peskin, Gordon Mar, Matt Dorsey, Myrna Melgar, Rafael Mandelman and Ahsha Safaí voted to approve the trial run, while Connie Chan, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen and Shamann Walton voted in dissent.
“I know the thought process is, ‘Just trust us, just trust the police department.’ But the reality is people have been violating civil liberties since my ancestors were brought here from an entirely, completely different continent,” Walton — the board president and District 10 representative — said.
Under the new policy, police can access up to 24 hours of live video of outdoor footage from private surveillance cameras owned by individuals or businesses without a warrant as long as the camera’s owner allows it. Police must meet one of three outlined criteria to use their newfound power: they must be responding to a life-threatening emergency, deciding how to deploy officers in response to a large public event or conducting a criminal investigation that was approved in writing by a captain or higher-ranking police official.
The trial will last 15 months. If supervisors wish to extend or revise the policy, they must take a second vote.
Breed first proposed an overhaul of the city’s surveillance practices late last year as a way to crack down on retail theft, rioting, looting and drug-dealing. The plan initially received blowback from Peskin and others, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Bar Association of San Francisco, who feared the policy would be abused by police. Peskin, along with other members of the Board of Supervisors, introduced a competing proposal that, along with Breed’s, would have appeared on the June 7 primary ballot.
In March, however, Breed and Peskin both pulled their proposals and sought to reach a compromise. In May, they announced agreement on an updated plan, which contains new safeguards including rules for how long the cameras can be used, data retention and regular reporting requirements.
The new policy is supported by San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who replaced former DA Chesa Boudin after he was recalled in a special election in June. Shortly after Jenkins took office, she wrote a letterto Peskin —the chairman of the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee — informing him that she would back the new surveillance practices.
“I believe this policy can help address the existence of open-air drug markets fueling the sale of the deadly drug fentanyl,” Jenkins wrote. “Drug dealers are destroying people’s lives and wreaking havoc on neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. Mass organized retail theft, like we saw in Union Square last year, or targeted neighborhood efforts like we’ve seen in Chinatown is another area where the proposed policy can help.”