Mayor London Breed Introduces Camera Access Legislation to Better Protect Residents, Businesses, and Neighborhoods
Ordinance comes from the result of collaboration between the Mayor’s Office, Supervisor Peskin’s Office, and the San Francisco Police Department
San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed today introduced legislation improving and clarifying local laws governing the use of cameras during situations with serious public safety impacts and in neighborhoods facing critical public safety challenges. Mayor Breed had originally proposed a ballot measure on this matter, but withdrew the measure in order to develop a solution with legislators in City Hall, including Supervisor Aaron Peskin.
This ordinance is part of a citywide, multi-departmental adoption of technology use policies to strategically use technological advances to strengthen and expand the delivery of City services to residents, businesses, visitors, and neighborhoods. Departments with forthcoming technology use policies include the Airport, Department of Elections, Fire Department, Juvenile Probation Department, Municipal Transportation Agency, Public Library, Recreation and Parks Department, and War Memorial.
The legislation proposed by Mayor Breed will clarify and explicitly authorize law enforcement to temporarily use non-city owned cameras to respond to the challenges presented by organized criminal activity, homicides, gun violence, officer misconduct, among other crimes, while strengthening critical safeguards and oversight to prevent misuse.
“We need law enforcement to have the tools to take on the very real public safety challenges facing our city,” said Mayor Breed. “This balanced proposal will help police deal with urgent public safety events, as well as support criminal investigations around issues like violent crime, retail theft, and drug dealing in our residential neighborhoods. Moving this forward in City Hall is the right thing to do, and I’m hopeful we can pass this legislation quickly to move forward with making our neighborhoods safer for our residents and workers.”
“The people of San Francisco deserve to see their elected representatives working together toward shared public safety goals, and that’s what we’ve been engaged in,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “Public safety in this context is about ensuring an effective response to crime on our streets while safeguarding against the real threats of a surveillance state.”
Under the conditions outlined in the ordinance, temporary live monitoring will cease, and the connection will be severed within 24 hours after the non-city entity has provided access to SFPD. The Department has considered and carved out safeguards relating to potential impacts to the right to privacy, loss of liberty, warrantless searches, and equal protections when making requests for non-governmental camera footage or temporary live monitoring of non-city owned cameras.
“Authorizing this ordinance will provide the necessary temporary access and tools necessary to solve crimes related to homicides, gun violence, retail theft, and drug dealing,” said Police Chief William Scott. “Similar to neighboring cities, this legislation will provide an opportunity to gather independent evidence relevant to criminal investigations.”
The proposed policy underwent the process mandated by the law regulating use of surveillance technology, authored by Supervisor Peskin, and was heard in four separate hearings by the Committee on Information Technology (COIT) and its Privacy and Surveillance Advisory Board (PSAB) between March 25, 2022 and April 21, 2022. COIT voted to recommend the policy to the Board of Supervisors for approval on April 21, 2022.
DETAILS ABOUT PROPOSED PUBLIC SAFETY MEASURE
Right now, local laws bar law enforcement from accessing live video footage from non-city owned cameras in any situation other than situations that involve imminent danger of death or serious physical injury. Temporary live video access of non-city owned cameras is not allowed for crime prevention purposes or investigatory purposes, even if the crime is violent or likely to result in serious harm, such as gun violence or violence related to drug dealing in residential neighborhoods, or if the purpose is to investigate officer misconduct.
The proposed policy would allow law enforcement temporary access to non-city owned cameras to live monitor activity during exigent circumstances—situations that involve imminent danger of death or imminent danger of serious physical injury—as well as during significant events with public safety concerns, and investigations relating to active misdemeanor and felony violations.
The proposed policy would also authorize law enforcement to gather and review historical video footage for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation and gather and review historical video footage for the purposes of an internal investigation regarding officer misconduct.
Significant public safety events are large or high-profile events in the City where SFPD Special Events Unit and Traffic Company manage street closures, barricades, and crowd management, Special Investigations Division manages dignitary escorts, or Homeland Security Unit is assigned to thwart potential terrorist or criminal attacks. These units may require and request additional deployment efforts during these events based on activity detected during live monitoring which allows for situational awareness and the ability to coordinate resources based on the information obtained from this temporary use.
The legislation comes with significant safeguards and oversight, including:
Clear Safeguards on Use of Cameras that include, but are not limited to, restrictions on how the cameras can be used; how long they can be used; rules for data retention as well as data disposal; continuing the bar against the use of facial recognition technology; barring any live monitoring inside residential dwellings; barring any live feed during First Amendment activities for reasons outside of redeployment needs; and mandatory training before any technology can be used by any authorized individual.
Strong Oversight provisions, including but not limited to, quarterly reporting of all live monitoring requests to the Police Commission and copying the Board of Supervisors for the first two years, with a bi-annual report after that two year period; mandatory tracking of every exercise of this allowable temporary access; maintaining a log of each time camera footage is requested, approved, or denied by a non-city entity and making the log available for on-demand audits; and continuing the private right of action enshrined in the existing law which allows for additional oversight through the civil legal system.