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Politics & Policy

San Franciscans overwhelmingly support surveillance cameras, police chases

Two SFPD officer stand in the middle of the street forcing traffic to stop.
San Franciscans strongly support police use of cameras and drones—but not facial recognition, according to a new poll. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

A ballot measure that would give the San Francisco Police Department increased powers is seeing significant support—but new data suggests voters are hesitant to hand over certain surveillance technologies to law enforcement when they are pursuing suspects.

Poll results released Friday measuring voters' support for Prop. E shows 83% of respondents want police to conduct vehicle chases against suspects during incidents of retail theft, car break-ins or an individual fleeing law enforcement in a car. Another 74% back surveillance cameras. Sixty-three percent support the use of drones.

But voters are lukewarm about facial recognition technology, a tool that Prop. E could open up the door for police to utilize if the measure is adopted. Forty-eight percent are in support while 12% are unsure about the technology's adoption, the poll found.

The gap in support between more police and the skepticism over facial recognition technology is likely due to what one privacy expert describes as a macro versus micro situation playing out.

A weathered security camera mounted on a wall next to Asian characters and an emblem.
Surveillance cameras record pedestrians and vehicles on Irving Street corridor in the Inner Sunset neighborhood. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

"People want to feel safer," said Mike Katz-Lacabe, director of research at the San Leandro-based Center for Human Rights and Privacy. "They want to do something about crime. But when you dig into something very specific, people will feel how it will impact them or people that they care about."

The poll was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates Research (FM3) and commissioned by GrowSF, a moderate political group that has been critical of progressive candidates and their policies towards law enforcement.

The poll interviewed 455 participants between Feb. 9 and 15 and has a margin of error of ±4.9%.

FM3's findings bear a resemblance to those found in a poll commissioned this month by the city's Chamber of Commerce, which found over 60% of voters support Measure E. The measure is also attracting lots of monetary support—nearly a quarter million dollars this month alone. Opponents of Prop. E include the American Civil Liberties Union, though a comparatively small $200,000 has been raised in total to fight it.

Prop. E was put on the ballot by Mayor London Breed and needs a simple majority to pass. It would also require that any new policy made by the Police Commission—the department's watchdog—receive public feedback, a process that Prop. E's critics say is just a way to stall police reforms.

The proposition's placement on the ballot comes amidst a wider conversation over how to address crime in the city, with moderates generally wanting to free police of what they perceive as unnecessary guardrails while progressives seek to keep them in place.

The debate has extended to another measure on the ballot, Prop. B, which would establish and fund a minimum number of police officers but is contingent on a future tax.

Friday's polling shows vast support for more cops: Seventy-five percent of voters want 500 more officers on the streets, an effort that is backed by 81% of Black voters, 71% of Latinos and 80% of Asian-Americans.

An additional 74% of voters are likely to stand behind a political candidate who wants more police.

Prop. B was created by Supervisor Matt Dorsey but then amended by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who added the tax element to the measure. Dorsey has pulled his support and over half a million dollars this month has been raised in opposition. Supporters include the city's unions, which argue a separate stream of funding for police could allow for the hiring of more first responders.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with the correct number of interviewees in GrowSF's poll.