SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Police Department is holding a series of public forums aimed at better educating the public about “re-activating” hundreds of “smart” streetlights that capture video throughout the city to help in police investigations. 

And they hope to add automated license plate readers. 

“They were a game-changer as far as solving violent crime throughout the city,” said Captain Jeffery Jordan, who led the presentation. “We used them approximately 400 times previously to solve anything from homicides, sexual assaults, gun-related crimes.”

In 2020, after two years in use, more than 3,000 cameras were mostly turned off due privacy concerns. Since then, the city has approved ordinances to provide more oversight and created a Privacy Advisory Board to make recommendations.

“We are not watching it 24-seven,” Jordan said. “They are, for us, a reactive tool. They notify us when an alert goes off, when a stolen vehicle goes underneath them, or if we have an amber alert. If a violent crime is reported, like a homicide, it allows us to go back reactively to find evidence and video of those crimes.”

For example, a few years ago in Otay Mesa, a man opened fire inside Church’s Chicken, killing a store clerk and wounding two others.

“There was almost no information about the suspect or motive but what we did pick up in that video was a distinctive car,” Jordan said.

At Monday’s meeting at the Otay Mesa Nestor Branch Library, a couple of dozen people showed up to raise concerns, mostly questions focusing on data breaches and storage.

Mariano Munuz worries about the technology’s capabilities.

“My worry would be stuff like accuracy, making sure the company didn’t oversell the capability of it,” Munuz said.

With a critical shortage of police officers, including a hundred investigators, this technology allows cops to do more with less.

“We can’t be everywhere at once, but we hope through the use of license plate readers or video cameras, that if a crime does occur, we can reactively respond to it,” Jordan said.