Old Town

SDPD Chief of Police Renews Call for Use of Streetlight Cameras to Fight Crime

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San Diego's Chief of Police is renewing the call for his police department to once again use street light cameras to help solve crimes.

Chief David Nisleit made the public plea Wednesday in front of police headquarters, highlighting how detectives used MTS’ surveillance cameras to help track down the suspected killer who pushed 68-year-old Martin Andara into the side on an oncoming train, killing him at the Old Town Station trolley line on New Year's Day. Andara was on his way to work.

Nisleit cited the arrest as an example of why he believes police should once again be allowed access to the city's thousands of smart street light cameras that are currently turned off because of privacy concerns.

"Unfortunately, we lost some of those cameras and it's been difficult for us to solve violent cases,” said Chief Nisleit.

That's what I really want to stress, tech can be leveraged to solve violent crime. In this case an unprovoked senseless homicide, but it allows law enforcement to be more precise and know who they're looking for versus having to cast a wider net. "

Back in June of 2020, we saw the street light cameras at work when police released slowed-down video of a robbery suspect allegedly pulling a gun on officers.

The department released footage from the shooting in less than 24 hours. NBC 7's Allison Ash has more.

The video was released to help show why they shot and killed him.

"Our request isn't they don't have access to it, our request is if there is actually oversight,” said Khalid Alexander a member of Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology or TRUST SD.

Alexander points to cases like Aaron Harvey's as to how there could be police overreach with cameras.

You may remember Harvey was arrested in 2014 and faced life in prison because police say the Lincoln Park neighborhood native was gang-affiliated. A judge found no evidence to support the charges and dropped the case.

Harvey went on to graduate from UC Berkeley in May.

"These are laws and tactics they’re using without technology so bringing technology like this will only heighten problematic ways that police department interacts with the community," Alexander said.

Nisleit said safeguards are in place to protect against misuse.

“Our policy in the City of San Diego is one of the most robust in the country. The previous policy of five days retention period, how they're used, the fact that we keep an audit trail that we put on a webpage and the types of crimes with dispositions of crimes," Nisleit said.

The TRUST SD coalition drafted a surveillance ordinance and privacy advisory commission ordinance in 2020 that was approved by the San Diego City Council and is now awaiting implementation.

Mayor Todd Gloria's office issued the following statement:

The Mayor supports the use of technologies like smart streetlight cameras to increase public safety in our neighborhoods. He intends to forward a Privacy Ordinance to the City Council for its consideration very soon that sets clear and specific policies for how these technologies will be used. If adopted, smart streetlights and other tools can be swiftly deployed to assist our police officers to keep San Diegans safe.

Ryan Michael Rukstelis -- the man accused of pushing Andara into the side of an oncoming train -- is scheduled to make his first appearance in court Thursday.

Initial reports said that the victim had been pushed in front of the train, when, in fact, he was pushed into the side of the train, sustaining fatal injuries. — Ed.

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