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Mayor Breed, Peskin Yank Ballot Measures in Ongoing Battle Over SF Police Surveillance
Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Mayor Breed, Peskin Yank Ballot Measures in Ongoing Battle Over SF Police Surveillance

A critical chapter in the fight over expanding police surveillance in San Francisco ended quietly this week when Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin agreed to settle their differences at City Hall instead of going to voters with dueling ballot measures this June.

Mayor Breed stunned privacy advocates last December when she announced plans to allow police to monitor surveillance cameras in real time following a spate of smash-and-grab burglaries in Union Square that drew national attention. The mayor argued that a 2019 privacy ordinance pushed by Peskin posed an obstacle for police responding to the burglaries because officers could not watch cameras in the area in real time.

The ordinance prohibits police and other city agencies from using new surveillance technologies without first getting approval from the Board of Supervisors.

The mayor followed through with her announcement in January with a carrot-and-stick approach. While Breed said she hoped to work things out beneath the dome, she also sought to gain leverage at City Hall by placing a measure on the June ballot to amend the ordinance.

The measure would have allowed police to use new surveillance technologies under a broader set of emergency circumstances without prior approval. The proposal also would have given Police Chief Bill Scott the power to use new surveillance technologies by declaring “Public Safety Crisis Areas” in neighborhoods with high crime and drug dealing.

Peskin fired back with his own measure that would have kept the 2019 ordinance intact and streamlined the process for agencies to gain approval to use new technologies. Both he and privacy advocates argued that all police had to do to use cameras in real time was submit a usage policy for the new technology to the Board of Supervisors.

But on Monday, both Breed and Peskin withdrew their proposals.

Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for Breed, said the mayor is hopeful her proposed changes can be made through the board process.

“The mayor from the beginning said she wanted to pass this at the Board of Supervisors,” Cretan said. “We have been making good progress in discussions about passing this at the Board, so we have pulled the proposed ballot measure from the June ballot.”

However, Cretan warned that the measure could still be placed on the November ballot if conversations with the board grind to a halt. In January, Breed also introduced legislation to the board alongside Supervisor Catherine Stefani that mirrored her ballot measure. That option is still in play.

In a statement, Peskin said “common sense has prevailed.”

“The people of San Francisco deserve better than unnecessary political fights,” he said. “When it comes to police use of surveillance technology, public safety and thoughtful oversight are one and the same. Now it’s time for law enforcement to come into compliance with the law.”

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Lee Hepner, an aide for Peskin, said he expects the mayor and board to settle their differences through the process already outlined under the existing surveillance ordinance. That entails the police submitting a policy for the usage of live surveillance to the Board of Supervisors and a surveillance oversight board for approval. Hepner said a draft is in the works.

Meanwhile, the City Attorney’s Office recently beat back an attempt by civil liberties groups to show that police illegally used live surveillance by gaining access to a network of Union Square security cameras to monitor protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU of Northern California sued the city on behalf of three protesters in October 2020, alleging that police violated the surveillance ordinance.

But a judge sided with police in the lawsuit last month, finding that the department could use the cameras at the time because police had already done so before the surveillance ordinance went into effect in July 2019 when they monitored the Pride Parade the prior month.

On Tuesday, the ACLU of Northern California, which opposed Breed expanding police powers, claimed credit for the mayor withdrawing her June ballot measure.

“The SFPD tried to twist people’s fear to seize virtually unchecked surveillance powers,” ACLU attorney Matt Cagle said in a statement, “and San Franciscans saw right through it.”

Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected].
  • Dear Mrs. Breed, i would like to take a a moment to tell you how much I admire your work ethic, your intelligence, and your strength. I wish I was like you.

    The problem you have at hand is a civilian rights enforcement and restitution type of remedy issue not a surveillance issue. Ensuring that children in public schools that are African-American are receiving fair and equitable treatment and educational skills is a civilian right that has got to be enforced, checked on, and people who do not honor that for young men in particular that are black should have to pay some sort of restitution, or something to that effect. Without a good education, you cannot have access to good jobs, thus jobs, and a healthy work environment, and permanency, are civil rights of people of color, that sometimes are not acknowledged, and denied to people. There’s a lot of issues with renting buying you name it. All of these rights are interconnected, they all have to be in good standing in order for the other ones to provide and facilitate a decent life for a person. Thus, if you facilitate or create systems of accountability for violations of human rights of people of the BIPOC community, then you would see that, people are not going to need to steal because they would be gainfully employed, and so forth. I realize that some of us people that are sort of ghetto, I’m proud of being ghetto, we have sometimes some obstacles that we have to overcome, nevertheless we’re humans too and our human dignity and human rights is something that is not negotiable for people to Grant to us it is automatically right from the time of birth because we’re people. So whatever the challenges are you know as long as they get treated with respect and patience, I think you would be amazed at the transformation that a lot of us are capable of doing. God bless you and take care and I hope that the values you do what’s right in your heart for your African-American community. Your amazing! Madison

  • CANNOT wait for the day when Peskin get murdered by criminals, addicts and homeless scums of San Francisco then you wonder if his family will be asking the SFPD to view who killed this LIBERAL, SELF CENTERED BUM of SF Board of Supervisors!!!!!

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