FREMONT -- Saying they want to prevent crime and catch criminals, police are asking the City Council to consider installing surveillance cameras in "low- to moderate-income areas" of the city.
The cameras are a response to requests from residents for more surveillance to combat a rise in home burglaries, said Lt. John Liu, who is heading up the effort. A Community Development Block Grant -- the federal housing money that would fund the camera system -- requires that they be placed in low-income areas, he said.
"It's not the program's intent to focus on any one type of resident," Liu said. "This is part of a larger project, and our intent is place these cameras around the entire city, eventually."
Grant money totaling $161,375 will go toward the purchase of up to 20 digital video cameras, which would be mounted on Fremont streetlights and public buildings. The surveillance camera system's startup costs will cost about $450,000 and police will have to find additional funds to pay for it, Liu said.
Police said use of the cameras will follow federal law by capturing images of motorists and vehicles on roadways, but not private property. Also, information used in criminal investigations would be stored on a server and kept for as long as necessary, as with all types of evidence, police said.
"General information gleaned from the video cameras would be dumped after 30 days," Liu said. "Storing that much data becomes costly."
The program still is in the preliminary stages and other key details -- such as the program's annual costs and which private company they aim to contract with -- have yet to be determined, police said.
Some residents are concerned that the surveillance cameras indicate a creeping invasion of privacy and might open the door to abuses of power.
"If it's for a legitimate reason, fine, but they have to make it clear that they're not snooping into other people's homes or lives in other ways," said Moina Shaiq, an Alameda County Human Relations Commissioner and Fremont-based Muslim community advocate. "It's a sad reality; it's the times we're living in."
If approved, Fremont would join a growing number of cities using cameras, vehicle license plate readers or both to gather data on the comings-and-goings of motorists in its city. Municipalities such as New York City, Tiburon, Vallejo and Oakland have approved similar policies.
Fremont does not have license plate readers but police are considering adding them, Liu said.
Police will use U.S. Census data to decide which neighborhoods will get cameras. That data lists about a dozen eligible "low- to moderate-income" areas, including Ardenwood, Central-Downtown, South Sundale and the Niles district.
Deborah Carey said she is surprised that her Niles neighborhood made the Census list because she is surrounded by "many pricey, pricey homes."
Carey said she was "torn" to learn of the plan, saying she worries about abuses of power, but also wants serious criminals taken off the streets. "Nobody wants to be spied on, but if something goes wrong, you'd like to know who the perpetrator was," she said.
Besides, in this age of social media, fighting against surveillance might be a lost cause, Carey said.
"If you have a Facebook account, it might be too late to worry about that," she said. "By now, you'd think people would realize privacy is a thing of the past."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
If you go
WHAT: Fremont City Council meeting
WHERE: City Hall, 3300 Capitol Ave., Building A
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
INFO: 510-284-4060 or www.Fremont.gov