SAN LEANDRO -- The city, already tracking license plates on vehicles, is getting more surveillance cameras.
The City Council gave the police chief the green light Tuesday to launch a pilot program that would put surveillance camera systems in at least two public places with high-crime rates, or in areas used by criminals as escape routes. The program could be expanded in the future.
Approval of the new program Tuesday night on a 5-2 vote -- Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Councilwoman Ursula Reed voted against it -- came after half a dozen community members expressed opposition, saying the plan was a violation of their civil liberties. Four others favored the program as a way to curb crime.
"I think it is disappointing that the decision was based on so little evidence," Mike Katz-Lacabe, a school board member, said after the vote. "So little evidence of their effectiveness. So little evidence of the need for them and frankly a lack of concern for privacy rights."
Katz-Lacabe, who may run for City Council, has been a vocal critic of the city's existing surveillance program after seeing images of his family in his driveway captured by license plate readers. That data is stored with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center in San Francisco for a year.
The city's license plate reader technology will be part of the new system. San Leandro's use of the plate readers recently garnered national attention, in part because residents were unaware the city had been using them since 2008.
Specifics of the new program -- including the location, type and cost of the cameras, and how long the data will be retained -- have not been decided and will come back to the council for a vote.
Janet Gebhardt, a community member of the police chief's advisory board, said she believes San Leandro needs to do everything it can to fight crime.
"Being between Oakland and Hayward is not an easy place to be," Gebhardt said. "These cameras will not be in our backyards ... but in public streets on public property where complete privacy cannot be assumed."
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli said the Police Department also plans to add three new license plate readers to the city's two existing ones. When up and running, San Leandro will have three readers in patrol cars and two stationary readers, not including those in the new camera program.
Spagnoli argued that police should be using the technology available to save time, nab criminals and keep the community safe. The growing use of cameras in other cities and in Oakland's planned 150-camera Domain Awareness Center will bring more criminals into San Leandro, not unlike the criminal spillover effect seen in Antioch after Pittsburg expanded its camera program from five cameras in 2005 to 86 cameras in 2013, she said.
Spagnoli said private property surveillance and traffic cameras led to arrest of a suspect within 24 hours of a violent sex crime in San Leandro.
For 20-year city resident Arlene Lum, that's enough.
Lum, president-elect of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said she wished her home had been equipped with cameras when her husband was robbed at gunpoint in their garage four years ago. She said she is in talks with Oakland police about the best places to install $80,000 in grant-funded cameras in Oakland's Chinatown, where bank robberies, late night break-ins and muggings of seniors in broad daylight have risen, she said.
"It has gotten so bad that people do not want to come into Oakland Chinatown to eat or shop in the evenings," she said. "What we had to do was take control of our community." But for Tim Holmes, police chief advisory board member, president of the Broadmoor Neighborhood Association and owner of Zocalo Coffehouse, the city's track record isn't helping matters.
He said it would be irresponsible for the city "to impose surveillance on its citizens without making a significant effort to ensure awareness of this by the people who live here," adding, "Our city has already gone down the path without the public, or in many cases even the council being informed."
Cassidy expressed concerns about the mass sharing of data and possible use of facial recognition software in the future, something not currently used or included in the city's plans.
Using cameras with facial recognition abilities "is part of the future of public safety," Spagnoli said, as is sharing data among law enforcement agencies. She said she hoped to later expand the public safety camera program to include public-private partnerships like other cities have done while still keeping data secure.
A "very clear concern that came out of 9/11 was the failure of agencies to share information," Spagnoli said, "and I can tell you that the future is continuing to share information with public safety agencies and it's to solve crime."
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo, San Ramon and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/ashlyreports.