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Monday, August 13, 2007

SF Crime Cameras: 0, Criminals: 54 68

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2007 at 5:02 PM

This is some good shit. SF's million-dollar crime cameras haven't done jack squat. Why? Because of lighting and field of vision and speedy criminals. So much for Big Brother. More like, "Oh, Brother." Snitch Benjamin Wachs has the scoop. Firsties! -d2

Big Brother Needs Glasses


Almost a year ago, with much fanfare, the San Francisco Housing Authority began placing 178 cameras in crime-ridden public housing complexes. The cameras would, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom, help police investigate crimes ranging from homicide to burglaries.

The message to criminals? Big Brother’s watching you. But homicides have actually gone up in public housing complexes since last year. Not only have those 178 cameras, whirring 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, done nothing to prevent crime, but at a public hearing Monday San Francisco police and housing officials could only come up with two instances – between them – where camera images had actually be useful in a police investigation.

Since each camera costs between $4,000 - $7,000, those results cost around $1 million.

Apparently Big Brother sucks at this.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, was incredulous when he found out.

“I personally know of four homicides – one of which was committed in broad daylight – that all happened at the intersection of Laguna and Eddie, right in front of one of those cameras. And yet now we’re hearing that they’re not useful. How is this possible?”

Tim Larson, assistant general counsel for the housing authority, responded – I kid you not – that many homicides occur at night, and the lighting is often bad.

As for the times a murder happened right in front of the camera in broad daylight? Well, you see, their field of vision is limited. Also, murderers often move really fast, and so the cameras have trouble getting a good picture of them.

Also, the cameras aren’t manned – despite the assurance when the program started that they would be – and so the housing authority only looks at the video if someone asks them to.

Police Lieutenant John Murphy seconded Larson’s assessment.

“From what I’ve seen, most of the times these crimes are committed at night, and the quality is very poor. Shadows, what the individual’s wearing, and the speed at which the individual’s moving,” can all make the image worthless to investigators.

Larson said the system is a “work in progress,” and that they’re hoping to gradually improve it as they put up more cameras. But when Mirkarimi asked “Are there any plans to implement improvements?” Larson couldn’t come up with a date, or an agenda, or even so much as a napkin with the words “improve cameras” scribbled on it.

Which is funny, because he had over two weeks to prepare for this hearing. You’d think he would have done a little homework.

The fact that he didn’t is all too typical of the cavalier indifference with which the Housing Authority – a federal agency – treats its partners in city government. There have been ongoing problems with Housing Authority and police cooperation, and San Francisco’s poorest residents inevitably pay the price.

How many murders take place on Housing Authority property? Tough to say: Larson said the Housing Authority gets its statistics for crime on Housing Authority from the city police … while at earlier hearings, police say the housing authority compiles those numbers.

Big Brother can’t even decide who’s in charge of watching you. Big Brother really should get its act together.

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David Downs


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