SAN DIEGO — The City of San Diego is a step closer to using smart streetlights and automated license plate readers to help fight crime.
Friday, the city council’s Public Safety Committee held a special meeting to hear and discuss the contract with Ubiquia, the Florida-based company that is providing the equipment and technology for the program, which would run for five years at a cost of $11.6 million.
“The contract is completely transparent, it’s on the city’s website — it’s downloadable by anyone in the public,” said Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert.
Von Wilpert led the way as committee chair, deciding to finalize the next step in starting the program, by moving it forward to the full city council, but without recommendation for passage, to allow the city’s Privacy Advisory Board to go over the contract at a meeting later in the month and provide feedback.
“We’ve had a lot of public outreach and public comment on this item. I didn’t see the need for further delay. I did see the need though for the Privacy Advisory Board to use their expertise in technology and equipment to weigh in. That’s why I chose to move forward, but still invite the opportunity for them to weigh in before it comes to full council,” said Von Wilpert.
In 2020, the city deactivated more than 3,000 smart streetlights after backlash over privacy issues.
The city’s privacy ordinance has since put rules in place for the use of surveillance technologies.
Now the city is looking to deploy 500 smart streetlights with the license plate readers.
“When you look at back when we had the 3,000 cameras, smart street lights, we were able to solve cases that we would not have solved today. If your case, if your car, or you are not involved in crime, it will never be seen by law enforcement. It’s only when we start investigating specific crimes does this information get used,” said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit.
But privacy advocates argue the contract raises too many red flags — including Ubiquia owning the equipment and how the data will be handled.
“I’m actually disappointed that this conversation happened today. We should have waited for the Privacy Advisory Board to provide its recommendations and then this committee would have had the information it needed in order to make a more sound decision,” said Homayra Yusufi with the Trust SD Coalition.
Von Wilpert said she hopes the full city council will take a vote by the end of the year.