Berkeley City Council considers proposal to install security cameras

photo of surveillance cameras
Jonathan McIntosh/Creative Commons
A proposal to install security cameras to mitigate gun violence in Berkeley, introduced by Councilmembers Rashi Kesarwani and Terry Taplin, will prioritize several intersections on University Avenue and Ashby Avenue. Photo by Jonathan McIntoshCC BY-SA 2.0

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Berkeley City Council is considering a proposal to install security cameras in South and West Berkeley to curb gun violence.

The council will make a final decision mid-November during the city’s midbudget review, according to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

On Oct. 12, Councilmembers Rashi Kesarwani and Terry Taplin introduced the proposal to authorize the city manager to install public security cameras at intersections with high numbers of violent crimes. The proposal specifically aims to provide a concrete response to rising incidents of gunfire in the city over the last several years, according to Taplin.

“The City must take immediate steps to address the public safety concerns of West and South Berkeley, which see disproportionate levels of gunfire and traffic violence,” Taplin said in an email.

As of Sept. 24, 35 shootings have occurred in Berkeley in 2021. Cases for 10 of the shootings have been closed with an identified suspect, according to the proposal.

There were 41 shootings in 2020 in the city, according to Berkeleyside’s Berkeley gunfire map. The map recorded 29 shootings in 2019, including one in People’s Park that was fatal.

“Every time I pass by the neighborhood, people constantly ask what the city will do,” Taplin said. “Most request security cameras.”

Taplin said the installation of security cameras primarily assists in the enforcement and investigation of crimes.

In the proposal, security cameras were recommended to be installed in 10 locations. The seven intersections along University Avenue and Ashby Avenue are prioritized, according to the proposal.

The Berkeley Police Department will make the decision on the cameras’ final locations based on calls for services, incidents and areas of greatest risk, according to Arreguín.

“We need to create policies that ensure the safety of our residents while also protecting their privacy,” said Arreguín in an email.

Catherine Crump, a campus professor of law, noted the proposed security cameras would have certain restrictions.

For instance, the proposal specifies that the footage would only be used during a criminal investigation. Crump said this would “stave off the possibility that they would be used in a problematic way.”

The cameras are also unlikely to capture private activity, as they would be placed at major intersections and would not include a license plate reader functionality, which is a “good safeguard for civil liberties,” according to Crump.

Crump still suggests specifying the limit on how many days footage can be stored.

Taplin said the proposal received “overwhelming support” from Berkeley residents. The opposition mostly comes from people outside the areas with the most gun violence in the city, he noted.

“I am surprised by how popular (the proposal) is,” Taplin said.

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.