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San Francisco Deploys First of 400 License Plate Readers

City officials said Tuesday they had deployed the first 100 cameras; the other 300 are expected to be on the street by July. The devices, paid for by a $17 million state grant, are intended to take on organized retail theft.

The San Francisco skyline.
(TNS) — San Francisco city officials are promising all 400 cameras in a new network of automated license plate readers will be installed by July.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Police Department announced on social media that it recently installed its 100th camera. The installation has been a gradual process that began in March, Allison Maxie, an SFPD spokesperson, told SFGATE.

The ALPR cameras are different from the traffic enforcement speed cameras coming to the city by 2025. Once installed in approximately 100 intersections, the ALPR cameras are meant to combat retail theft, motor vehicle theft and other public safety issues, according to the San Francisco Mayor's Office.

Law enforcement is not sharing the location of the cameras, but the first were placed in the Inner Sunset district, the mayor's office told SFGATE. The cameras are visible from the street but police are not disclosing their exact locations because it could allow criminals to avoid them, Maxie said, and "expose the network to either targeted or widespread vandalism or disruption."

Legislation to allow the ALPR cameras, which are funded by a $17 million state grant intended to help crack down on organized retail theft, was first introduced by Mayor London Breed in November. After introducing the legislation, Breed asked Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin to "expedite the legislation" so it would be approved in weeks, rather than months, according to the mayor's office.

City leaders said the first round of cameras have helped lead to several arrests, on accusations of organized retail theft, carjacking, robbery and sexual assault, according to a joint news release Wednesday from SFPD and the mayor's office. SFPD doesn't have any statistics to provide at this time about the technology leading to arrests, Maxie said.

But even as the city continues to expand camera programs, some privacy groups have raised concerns about them. Cooper Quintin, senior staff technologist at San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, told SFGATE that technology creates a large repository of people's locations.

"ALPRs are a form of dragnet surveillance," Quintin said. "They record everyone's movements all across the city. They don't just record the movements of criminals to help stop crime, but they are also recording everywhere you go."

Quintin added that the cameras create "a large repository of people's locations, which could go back for several months, depending on how long SFPD decides to keep it, and it could represent some really personal information."

San Francisco Police plan to use more forms of technology for public safety efforts, according to the June 12 news release. It's a move that voters have backed.

In March, voters approved Prop E, a ballot measure that allows the SFPD to use drones and public safety cameras in their work. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was one of the opponents of Prop E, arguing that measure would create less police accountability.

Even so, the mayor's proposed budget allots $3.7 million for public safety technology, which could be used to install additional cameras and drones.

"This new technology is just one new tool we are using that is helping us make San Francisco safer for all and it is delivering results," Breed said.

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