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San Diego Police Seek to Install 500 ‘Smart Streetlights’

The San Diego Police Department is holding community meetings this week regarding the use of 500 so-called “smart streetlights,” which are equipped with video cameras and license plate readers.

The city purchased smart streetlights in 2016 with a loan from San Diego Gas and Electric, San Diego police Cpt. Jeff Jordon said at a March 6 community meeting at the Rancho Peñasquitos Public Library. Those streetlights were installed at locations throughout the city that were selected by the Environmental Resources Department.

Epoch Times Photo
A street light equipped with a camera and license plate reader in San Diego. (Courtesy of the City of San Diego)

But when they were installed, police were not informed that the smart streetlights had cameras, and audio technology for locating gunfire, Jordon said, which could be used to reduce crime and conduct investigations.

They were expected to reduce energy costs, and improve traffic flow and lighting conditions with LED technology, he said.

“The problem,” he said “[is that] they had good intentions, but didn’t tell the police,” about the surveillance capabilities.

It wasn’t until August 2018 that the department started using the technology embedded in the smart streetlights.

However, public outcry about a lack of transparency and oversight of police use of the equipment led then-Mayor Kevin Faulkner to discontinue their use in September 2020, according to Jordon.

The original cameras installed by the city are no longer usable as they were permanently disabled when they were turned off.

Jordan said before use of the cameras was halted, video from them had been used over 400 times in investigations and helped increase conviction rates, and reduce gun violence investigation costs.

He also said the department is proposing 500 sites to install new smart streetlights with working cameras and license plate readers.

In answer to concerns that the cameras may be used to discriminate based on race or religion, Jordon replied that the department’s proposed sites for the cameras is based on crime statistics for a given location.

“We focused our resources where we want the most impact,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
Smart streetlight proposed locations. (Courtesy of the city of San Diego)

When asked how cameras would reduce gun violence, Jordon said only a small number of people commit such crimes and that using them helps identify a suspected shooter and get them off the streets.

In answer to concerns about violations of Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, Jordon explained how the cameras have a digital “mask” preventing recording images of private property. He added that the cameras are not equipped with facial recognition technology.

“No [personally identifiable information] is collected,” he said.

Before the police department can use the smart streetlights, their proposal has to be reviewed by the mayor-appointed Privacy Advisory Board—which advises the city council on policies and issues related to privacy and surveillance—and receive final approval from the city council.

The department is also required by city law to hold these community outreach meetings prior to presenting to the advisory board.

Residents can submit public comment on the issue by March 14 on the city’s website.

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