San Diego

SDPD Has Access to Smart Cameras Positioned Throughout City

The city of San Diego installed 3,000 cameras and sensors on city streets in order to collect data that developers can use for future infrastructure and sustainability projects.

NBC 7 has learned that those cameras are now being accessed by police investigators, which an elected official said wasn't part of the original deal.

City Councilmember Scott Sherman told NBC 7 that when he voted for the intelligent sensors and cameras in 2016, he was promised something specific.

"When that came forward it was about smart street light technology that they could use to monitor traffic flows and those types of things and save a lot of money on the energy part of street lights to boot," the District 7 representative said.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Erik Caldwell of the Smart and Sustainable Communities Branch told NBC 7 last month that the information collected from the cameras would give insight to "how people move through the urban environment,” and said the information would be critical to city planning.

Sherman said he was surprised to learn that the San Diego Police Department had access to the cameras, which are positioned on top of street lights or inside lamp posts all around the city.

"Yea, that was the disappointing part, that we weren't informed of that aspect of it," he said.

Sherman didn't say it was a bad thing that law enforcement investigators now have access to the cameras. He did, however, say the city will be keeping a close eye to make sure citizens' rights aren't violated.

"Now we're going to look into it to make sure civil liberties are protected," he said.

Since August 2018, streetlight camera footage has been used in 72 investigations of crimes ranging from deadly car accidents to violent crimes like homicides and sexual assaults, according to SDPD.

The cameras point towards the street, where there's no expectation of privacy. and cannot be moved remotely.

Cody Hooven, the city's chief sustainability officer, said the video only lasts for five days, and the main purpose of the sensors and cameras is still to save energy and gather traffic data.

"Just to be clear, it's not a surveillance system," Hooven said. "Nobody's sitting there watching footage."

Hooven said SDPD can ask to review footage only if a crime happens.

Chris Herrera has owned his business in North Park for 10 years. He says the neighborhood is fairly safe, so he was surprised to learn the city installed a  sensor and camera on his street light.

He said it could be considered invasive, depending on what you're doing out in the open. But if it keeps him safe, he's all for it.

"It's a little bit nerve-racking, I guess, if you're not doing the right thing, but as a business owner it's definitely something we welcome," he said.

The city says the cameras also have microphones in them, but for now they aren't turned on. That could change, though, as more uses for the equipment come up.

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