Berkeley Police Department announces security camera registration program to assist in investigations

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Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, announced a new program Wednesday in which community members can voluntarily register their video cameras with the department in order to share footage during crime investigations.

In the past, BPD has had success using footage provided from community members’ security systems to assist with investigations, according to its website. This program is intended to aid officers in more promptly identifying security footage that could potentially help officers follow leads, identify suspects and investigate crime, according to the BPD website.

“In general, (the camera registry) is a positive contribution to safety. The consideration of the program required weighing any harms to privacy of Berkeley residents. On balance, it is well-calibrated to advance safety,” said Ari Yampolsky, a commissioner on the Police Review Commission, or PRC.

The goal of the camera registry system — a program that other cities such as Oakland, El Cerrito, Martinez, Tracy and San Jose have also implemented — is to reduce crime and promote safety through collaboration, aligning with the department’s overarching goal of fostering “strong community-police relationships,” according to the BPD website.

“The more names we have in the database, the better,” said BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White. (The security camera registration program) is something the city has been talking about for a number of years.”

When the program was first introduced to Berkeley City Council in 2014, the PRC was concerned about the potential invasion of privacy due to police access to livestream footage as well as the retainment of footage that is not used as evidence, according to an agenda item.

The official City Council resolution approving the program in 2018, however, addressed these concerns by ensuring that the footage will only be reviewed while an investigation is taking place and by disregarding live camera feeds.

Russ Tilleman, a candidate for Berkeley City Council’s District 8 seat whose platform includes plans to increase police accountability, said he is concerned about the BPD program potentially violating the privacy of Berkeley residents.

“I believe BPD should be required to get a warrant before viewing video from any camera that could possibly see inside any private structure,” Tilleman said in an email. “They shouldn’t be able to use a private individual as a way to get around Constitutional protections for Berkeley residents.”

In terms of next steps or future additions to the program, White said that it is “too early to tell” but emphasized that he hopes people will register to the free and voluntary program.

“As more people sign up and as more input comes in from the community, we will have a better picture,” White said.

Contact Aarya Gupta at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aaryapgupta.