San Francisco Surveillance Cameras Don’t Reduce Violent Crime, Study Finds

Jan 09, 2009
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

A report released today evaluating San Francisco's surveillance cameras concludes that the cameras have failed in their mission of reducing violent crime in the city. Following an outside evaluation of the City's ill-advisory video surveillance program, independent researchers at the University of California Berkeley issued today's report.

In line with similar studies from around the world, the report found that San Francisco's video surveillance cameras do not make people safer. The cameras have failed to prevent or reduce violent crime, including homicides. The cameras have also had no effect on drug offenses or prostitution.

"Precious public safety dollars need to be spent on solutions that actually work to reduce violent crime, like community policing, intervention programs and improved lighting, not on more ineffective and intrusive cameras," said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California. "With homicides at a ten-year high and budgets in free fall, San Francisco cannot afford to spend its scarce public safety resources on camera systems that fail to make us safer."

The cameras were first installed in 2005 to address violent crime. Though the report found that the cameras resulted in a reduction in property crime, critics cite a failure to fulfill their purpose and question whether less property crime justifies the privacy intrusions and the financial toll

While some city officials have suggested that additional funding for active monitoring of the cameras would improve outcomes, the report cautions that such systems have also proved ineffective. For example, London has spent millions of dollars over the last ten years on actively-monitored cameras–one camera for every 13 people–which photograph people over 300 times a day. As in San Francisco, studies of London's surveillance program revealed that crime rates haven't gone down, nor do people feel safer

The UC Report concludes, "…given the lack of deterrent effect on violent crime and its limited usefulness with respect to investigations, it is clear that one of the questions the City must consider is whether or not to continue the CSC [community safety camera] program at all." (p 157).

Today's report will be presented to the San Francisco Police Commission on Wednesday, January 14. The San Francisco Community Safety Ordinance requires the Police Commission to only approve cameras when the potential to deter criminal activity outweighs any concerns by the affected community.

For more information about the ineffectiveness of video cameras in San Francisco and elsewhere, including an ACLU of Northern California report on the issue, click here.