Invasion of privacy or crime prevention? Santee considers new camera program

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SANTEE, Calif. — An East County city is considering some new high-tech ways to fight crime with help from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

Santee Mayor John Minto says the city enjoys a low crime rate and he wants to keep it that way.

“I’m looking at all the tools that we can to make sure people are safe,” Minto said.

The program, dubbed Safe Santee, would allow the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to tap into public and private camera systems to help catch crime in progress. It’s a program the sheriff’s department rolled out a year ago in Lemon Grove.

Wherever cameras are used for the program — such as shopping centers, parks and trails — and there’s an incident reported — deputies get a call and through their phones or computers, they can get instant video and a look at what is going on in the area, in real-time, possibly helping them spot a suspect or victim.

“And see what’s happening before the sheriff gets there,” Minto said. “That way, they know how urgent it is and they also know the sheriff might be able to approach from a different way, so that it’s safer for everybody that’s going there.”

Minto says businesses and residents would choose whether to take part in the program. He says so far he likes what he sees, but adds the city is concerned about privacy issues.

“Our city attorney and our councilmembers are very interested in making sure privacy is maintained because we want tools, but we don’t want them to be misused, either,” Minto said.

Lieutenant Mike Rand, of the sheriff’s department, helped launched the initiative in Lemon Grove, stressing it is not a surveillance program.

“The only time it is going to be utilized, like I said, if we have a call for service in the neighborhood or in the park, then we are going to pull up that call, but there is nobody that’s watching what people are doing,” Rand said.

The city of Santee has not yet adopted the program, but Minto says there’s a lot of support.

“Neighbors are helping neighbors in Santee and we just want to keep it that way,” Minto said.

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