Majority of City Council Approves Police Surveillance Tools — Smart Streetlights and License Plate Readers Getting Ready to Be Installed

by on August 2, 2023 · 9 comments

in Civil Rights, San Diego

In two separate votes, the San Diego City Council approved the Police Department’s smart streetlights and automated license plate readers proposals on Tuesday, August 1.

Seven council members voted in favor of the cameras, with Monica Montgomery Steppe and Sean Elo-Rivera voting no, and six council members voted for the license plate readers with Montgomery Steppe, Elo-Rivera and Vivian Moreno voting no.

These votes now authorize SDPD to obtain contracts with Ubiquia, a telecommunications company, for the cameras, and Flock Safety, for the license plate readers. Once the contracts are approved, police can install the network of 500 cameras –all equipped with automated license plate reader technology.

There are a few points worth emphasizing:

  1. The cameras would be located mostly in District 8 overlooking communities such as Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Otay Mesa, and District 3, which encompasses Hillcrest, North Park and downtown San Diego.
  2. Once installed, San Diego will become the largest in the country to use cameras and plate readers as part of a single network.
  3.  The City’s own Privacy Advisory Board — set up to oversee San Diego’s surveillance technology — voted down the proposals in July.
  4. Police state the cameras will be installed in public places “where people have no expectation of privacy,” and will be forbidden from being utilized for immigration enforcement or to target groups solely based on attributes such as race, religion or social views. (Since when do the police get to declare that citizens have no “privacy rights” in public spaces?)
  5. This is the same police department that hid from public view the real scope and use of the first round of surveillance cameras back in 2016, when the city council approved $30 million for the police proposal to use energy-saving smart streetlights to assess traffic and parking patterns throughout the city. What the public didn’t know — and wouldn’t know for years — is that the technology came with cameras that could be accessed by police.
  6. The resulting outcry — based on concerns about privacy and equity — led San Diego to shut down the network and fueled the creation of a surveillance ordinance that governs the use of smart streetlights and similar technologies. This led to the creation of the volunteer Privacy Advisory Board.
  7. This is also the same police department that accessed the so-called “smart” streetlights 35 times to gather evidence against demonstrators during protests held in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

License Plate Reader

The Union-Tribune had a great quote by Lilly Irani, an associate UC San Diego professor who specializes in technology ethics and who is part of the coalition that helped craft the city’s new surveillance ordinances:

“This is setting a precedent for mistrust in the council, mistrust in these emerging technologies and mistrust in the kinds of planning and design we’re going to be putting into how do we build out our city in the future.”

Other opponents who spoke up — and they were the majority of the dozens of  speakers at the hearing – urged the council to follow the recommendation of the Privacy Advisory Board. Council president Elo-Rivera echoed those concerns, calling the council’s decision to move forward with the project, despite the privacy board’s decision to vote against the project, “a bad look.” He said, “We unanimously appointed the privacy advisory board, unanimously decided those are the folks with the expertise.” He added:

“Until we get better at hearing what folks need in order to feel safe, and not assuming that we know what should make them feel safe, we’re never going to get to where we should be as a community in terms of safety.”

As the U-T reported:

Speakers who opposed the technology said they worried the surveillance tools would invade people’s privacy and lead to overpolicing in communities of color. Many said the department was not as transparent or collaborative as they could have been while crafting the policies that will govern the use of the technologies.

Police Chief David Nisleit issued a statement, assuring the council that police would draft up the contracts quickly and bring them back to the council ASAP. He also said, “The San Diego Police Department has put a great amount of time and effort into ensuring the City Council had the information they needed to put victims first today by approving our use of Smart Streetlights and ALPR technology.”

The Privacy Advisory Board would disagree with that. They consistently complained that police were not handing over information and documents for them to review in order to do their job.



{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

DiegoK August 2, 2023 at 2:00 pm

It’s a bit rich to hear Elo-Rivera complain about his Council colleagues ignoring the Privacy Advisory Board’s recommendations regarding streetlight surveillance cameras, when he has repeatedly ignored his D-9 constituents concerns about the City’s Bonus ADU policy and SB10.


Frank Gormlie August 2, 2023 at 2:05 pm

True enough. Plus isn’t he running for re-election?


DiegoK August 2, 2023 at 3:29 pm

Yes, he is up for re-election but so far I don’t believe anyone has thrown their name in the ring, which is unfortunate.


Frank Gormlie August 2, 2023 at 2:43 pm

Councilmember Joe LaCava, who seconded the motion, says “It is entirely possible to simultaneously support our officers and require transparency.” Shouldn’t he request that a smart st light camera be set up right outside his house? Oh, wait, there aren’t that many going to La Jolla – most are going to ethnic neighborhoods.


Vern August 2, 2023 at 7:32 pm

Fair point.
Shouldn’t these electeds have cameras directed at their homes and in their offices?
Shouldn’t electeds be required to take public transit to and from work everyday?
They might also start keeping time sheets and submitting them to their constituents (the taxpayers, not private equity and hedge funds) in real time, on the city website. One photo op, up to two hours, allowed per month, all others automatically initiate pay, vacation and pension docking.
Or something like it.


Mateo August 3, 2023 at 6:29 am

Body Worn Cameras For All Elected Officials:
We are ooking to organize a petition drive to require all elected City Officials to wear body worn cameras at all times while maintaining public office. Elected Officials would also be required to record all cellphone and text conversations, submit all cell phone data, including internet searches, personal calls, texts and lastly the Automated License Plate Readers must be used to track their whereabouts and movement throughout the City at all times.


Vern August 3, 2023 at 8:41 am

This seems reasonable and fair.


sealintheSelkirks August 13, 2023 at 6:48 pm

Welcome to the stupid zone, San Diego. Best prepare and set up a few very large bank accounts for the inevitable lawsuits that will come out of these East German Spy Light Poles because they WILL have this incident below (or similar) happen, and they will get us taxpayers sued.

Police Facial Recognition Flaw Almost RUINS Pregnant Woman’s Life
Isn’t there some way we the voters came make the politicians personally financially responsible for the losses that will be incurred by the city taxpayers for their awful decisions?

No, I guess not. Just like cops who kill and maim, like the cops that did this to this woman using stupid for a brain, only the rest of us are held responsible for our actions. What’s wrong with this picture?


sealintheSelkirks August 15, 2023 at 11:24 am

Many links here to the reality of this technology, folks, and what’s it is being used for:

“that are meant to improve governance and reduce crime. But there has been little evidence to back these claims, all while introducing a high risk of exclusion, bias, mis-identification, and privacy violations.

It’s important to note that these impacts are not equal. They fall disproportionately on religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities, migrants and refugees, as well as human rights activists and political dissidents.”
One thing I noticed that is mentioned is that the rulers can CUT YOU OFF INSTANTLY if they don’t like your politics. Totalitarian rule in truth.

As for the cry of ‘save the children’ and ‘crime rates’ you might want to read this one:



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