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Friday, June 27, 2008

Crime Cameras Work, but SF Doesn't Work the Cameras

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2008 at 10:04 AM

By Benjamin Wachs

SF’s crime cameras are back in the news: The Supes this week voted to significantly cut funding for the year old program. And why not?

Even by the standard of San Francisco’s pretty lousy records, SF’s crime cameras have a pretty lousy record. As SF Weekly has previously reported, they’ve cost nearly $1 million, led to only 1 arrest, and have provided police with virtually no useful information … and that’s when people can get to look at the things. The Supes had to specifically pass a law saying defense lawyers could have access to relevant video even though … um … wait, why did they need to do that again?

But here’s the funny thing … by which I mean sad: other municipalities have had crime camera programs that work. We’ve previously reported about the success of Washington D.C.’s crime cameras, which reduced crime by 19 percent in areas covered by cameras and helped catch suspects. (SF has also seen a drop in crime around the cameras - sort of - but preliminary evidence sugested the crime was only moving to just out of the cameras range. More critically, unlike D.C.'s cameras, ours almost never lead to arrests).

Now Rochester, New York, has shown us up too: after just 3 weeks of operation their new crime cameras have lead to 7 drug-related arrests.

How do they do it?

Simple: Like D.C., Rochester actually has real people watching the cameras. SF … for some reason … doesn’t. According to Rochester police, officers look at the areas shown by the cameras and investigate if they see something odd.

Brilliant, Holmes!

Despite all this, Hizzoner the Mayor has said he wants to put more unwatched cameras around the city because “they make people feel safer.”


As with so many other programs, the lesson to SF is pretty simple: no matter how good the idea, it just won’t work if you half-ass it.

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Benjamin Wachs


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