Berkeley City Council considers implementing security-camera registry

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The Berkeley City Council voted at its Tuesday meeting to investigate the possibility of implementing a security-camera database to aid police investigations.

The database would allow for residents to voluntarily give the city the address of their privately owned security cameras, so that if a crime occurs in the area, police officers will know immediately where to look for a videotape. The idea was met with opposition from some members of the public who feared it would infringe on residents’ privacy.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said opponents of the database may have misunderstood its scope.

“The city is not putting in new cameras. This is not suggesting that even individuals put in cameras,” Wozniak said at the meeting. “This is intended to be a very limited device to make potentially an investigation of a crime more efficient.”

Wozniak, who along with Councilmember Susan Wengraf introduced the idea, said he hoped the database would save the police some time.

Fremont implemented a security camera database in 2012, along with other collaborations between police and residents, and saw a 20 percent drop in burglaries. Vallejo, California, also implemented a similar project, and San Jose has considered it.

Councilmember Linda Maio also supported the idea, noting that surveillance footage helped solve recent homicides that occurred in her district.

Councilmember Max Anderson, though, criticized the database for providing too much power to the police.

“We’re being faced with the introduction of drones, tasers,” Anderson said at the meeting. “You never get back freedoms once you give them away.”

The council faced similar concerns when they voted earlier this year to investigate whether local police ought to be given the ability to use tasers and whether the limited use of drones should be allowed in Berkeley.

Additionally, a public commenter brought up the question of whether information from a security camera database would be available to anyone through the Freedom of Information Act. In that case, potential criminals might be able to find these cameras and destroy them.

Ultimately, the council decided that the database merited further consideration and voted to direct city staff and the Police Review Commission to investigate the matter. To address some worries about privacy, the council also suggested that the police only access such a registry in the case of crimes such as homicide, burglary and aggravated assault.

“A question from the enforcement side is how much time will it take to set up the registry and will the registry in fact increase efficiency?” said Alison Bernstein, acting chair of the PRC.

Melissa Wen is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.