IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

San Francisco Voters Approve Facial Recognition Drones

Voters were projected to approve a ballot measure that will ease restrictions on vehicle pursuits, allowing for the use of more surveillance technology and reducing oversight from the Police Commission.

The San Francisco skyline.
(TNS) — San Francisco voters awarded local police more power and less oversight Tuesday.

A ballot measure that will ostensibly help San Francisco police catch suspects in criminal cases by easing restrictions on vehicle pursuits, allowing for the use of more surveillance technology and reducing oversight from the Police Commission was on its way to passing, according to Wednesday morning vote tallies.

According to preliminary results from Tuesday's primary election, 59.9% of voters chose to approve Proposition E, which was placed on the ballot by Mayor London Breed ahead of her first reelection bid later this year, and 40.1% voted against it.

Breed, whose approval among San Francisco voters has waned amid growing concerns about public safety, celebrated the measure's passage Tuesday. (The San Francisco Chronicle and SFGATE are both owned by Hearst but have separate newsrooms.)

"Thank you to the voters for passing Prop E! This will help us build on our work to make San Francisco a safer city for all," she wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "We are giving our officers more tools to do their jobs and getting them out on the street to take care of our community."

The measure includes several components that augment the power of San Francisco police.

Previously, according to policies outlined by the city's citizen-led Police Commission, officers were allowed to initiate a vehicle pursuit only when they believed a fleeing suspect had committed a violent felony or thought the suspect posed an "immediate risk to public safety."

Prop. E lowers that standard to include all felonies, as well as violent misdemeanors — including retail theft, vehicle theft and auto burglary — and allows police to use their vehicles to pursue a suspect they believe is "likely to commit a felony or violent misdemeanor."

That provision, specifically, has garnered a lot of scrutiny. By lowering the standard for when an officer can initiate a vehicle pursuit, police have more cover to engage in potentially dangerous chases even though they may not have enough evidence to justify an arrest in the first place.

A February investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle found that deaths linked to police chases have increased across the nation, and that most of those chases begin with a low-level offense. Additionally, the investigation found that most of those killed are not the person fleeing.

The measure also will allow police more latitude to use surveillance technology, including cameras and drones with facial recognition capabilities.

Previously, the Police Commission had to sign off on the use of such technology in public areas like streets, sidewalks and in common areas of public housing. Now, though, the chief of police may unilaterally approve its use without going to the commission first.

The measure does stipulate that a "community meeting" must be held before officers can begin implementation. But while the text of Prop. E describes in great detail what those community meetings will entail, it does not say that police will need to comply with public feedback about department plans. The measure also says that the police chief can waive this requirement in certain circumstances.

Breed's pitch to voters was that Prop. E will allow police to get out from behind their desks. The measure would require the department to "reduce recordkeeping and reporting to the extent allowed by law, with the goal that patrol officers spend no more than 20% of their work time on administrative tasks."

The measure also reduces the amount of instances in which police must file written use-of-force reports. Previously, officers were required to file such reports when they used a firearm, pointed a firearm at a person, forced a resisting suspect into handcuffs or used force "likely to cause physical pain or injury." Police were also required to record any use of force with their body cameras.

Now, with the passage of Prop. E, officers can report most cases with just their body camera footage. Written reports will only be required in instances in which an officer used a firearm or pointed it at someone, or when they injure someone during a confrontation.

Prop. E was backed by several prominent local organizations, including the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Association and the San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance. Mayoral candidate Daniel Lurie, a local nonprofit founder and an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, also formed a fundraising committee for the measure.

Tanisha Humphrey, an employee of ACLU of Northern California who managed the No on Prop E campaign, told the Chronicle that the measure's passage will erode civil liberties and make the city more dangerous for people of color.

"The ACLU of Northern California and our partners will continue to defend civil liberties and civil rights in San Francisco, as we have for nearly 100 years," Humphrey told the outlet. "We will also press the mayor and Board of Supervisors to increase funding for evidence-based solutions that improve community safety, including affordable housing, mental health care, and substance use treatment."

Prop. E was just one of three ballot initiatives that the mayor placed on Tuesday's primary ballot. The other items — Proposition C, a measure related to real estate conversions, and Proposition F, a measure related to drug treatment — were both on their way to passing Wednesday morning.

© 2024 SFGate, San Francisco. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.