SAN DIEGO — The City of San Diego is looking for input from the public on more surveillance technology for San Diego police investigations.
However, before that happens, the community will have a chance to express their feelings about the technology.
The smart streetlights are already installed throughout the city but are not in use. The police department first used them in 2018.
“We do want it to be transparent and open to the public so they know this technology is there before we deploy it,” said Councilmember Marni von Wilpert, the San Diego Public Safety Chair.
The city wants to hear public opinions on reactivating 500 smart streetlights that capture images and data in the city for police investigations. Police have also said they’d like to add automated license plate readers for investigative purposes.
In 2020, the city cut access to more than 3,000 smart streetlights because of privacy concerns. Since then, the city has approved ordinances, which created oversight and a privacy advisory board.
“The point of the privacy law was to tell the public what those areas will be, where the smart streets lights will be, where the license plate readers will be so no one will feel caught off guard by being on camera,” von Wilpert said.
“We are trying to make sure the city doesn’t make decisions about the stuff we are all living with,” said Lilly Irani, a member of the San Diego Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology (TRUST) coalition.
Irani says the community needs more time and more information to form an opinion.
“Slow the process down and make sure meetings are spaced out to where working people, all kinds of people with different experiences can get out there and make sure their concerns are heard,” Irani said.
The smart streetlights and license plate readers would be used to investigate felony crimes, locate missing at-risk persons and respond to critical incidents and other police matters. The data is not monitored in real-time but rather after a crime is reported.
“We need every tool in the toolbox that we can to combat the rising violent crime at the same time we need to be open and transparent with the public. I do want this tool back online. I do want to make sure we hold criminals accountable and that we exonerate individuals who are falsely accused of committing a crime,” von Wilpert said.
Public meetings start March 6.
The privacy advisory board has a public meeting on March 15 to discuss the technologies. The board will then go to the city council with their recommendations for the technology and how it will be used.
Council President pro Tem Monica Montgomery-Steppe said in a statement regarding the surveillance technology:
“Over the past decade, law enforcement agencies have increasingly relied on technologies that help solve crimes and keep communities safe. It’s essential to balance the protection of the civil liberties of our residents while also maintaining transparency, which is the intent of the surveillance ordinance and privacy advisory board,” said Council President pro Tem Montgomery Steppe. “The upcoming community hearings are fulfilling the will of the community in the desire for education around any surveillance technology the city acquires. I look forward to these items going through the outlined process and hearing the Privacy Advisory Board’s future presentation to Council.”
Councilmember Stephen Whiteburn said in a statement: “The central urban neighborhoods I represent consistently list public safety as a top priority. When the smart streetlights were active, they helped solve crimes and got criminals off the streets. I look forward to hearing from community members and the Privacy Advisory Board, and I hope we can again use this technology to help keep our neighborhoods safe.”