A group of Ocean Beach residents, organized under the banner Citizens Against Privacy Abuse, gathered at the foot of Newport Avenue on Saturday afternoon (January 16) to protest the planned installation of ten surveillance cameras along the beach.
Among other concerns, they argue that the community was not given an opportunity to discuss the cameras' placement before the city approved the installation, slated to occur sometime this month.
"We're trying to raise community awareness," says O.B. local Rick Callejon. "The police made the announcement that these cameras are coming without reaching out first for any community input. We think that's a big deal, and a large part of what we're doing is educational — lots of people don't even know that the cameras are coming, and we want to delay them or stop them."
Police and representatives for city councilmember Lorie Zapf, who earmarked a significant portion of the $61,000 initial cost of installing the cameras, did present their plans to the O.B. Planning Board and OB Mainstreet Association, a local merchants' group. They declined, however, to participate in a subsequent forum organized by camera opponents.
Callejon says the cameras are "a multifaceted issue — you've got privacy concerns, plus we're of the belief that the only effective cameras are those that are actively monitored....
"We have no data studying the efficacy of these cameras where they've been used elsewhere; there's no data from the police or Zapf's office actually coming from the beach," Callejon continues. "All of their statistics deal with residential crime — and we're concerned that if there is crime happening on the beach, these cameras will drive it into the nearby residential neighborhoods….
"Our crime rates aren't high right now, so far as a historical view is concerned, and we believe there are better uses for our money — items pinpointed by the O.B. Town Council and the O.B. Planning Board are that we need money for our library, we need money for our lifeguard station. And if the problem here is homelessness, we need money for outreach — these people need counseling and services rather than more reasons to be arrested time and time again."
Callejon says his group is in favor of more police activity but believes the cameras wouldn’t be money well spent; he asserts there is no budget for police staff to monitor the video feeds in real-time or maintain the equipment once it goes in.
"I've been out here for several hours and I haven't seen one police officer on foot today," he says. "We welcome community policing, we welcome interaction between the police and the residents here in Ocean Beach. But cameras aren't the answer to creating that contact. Please, get out of the cars and deal with the people that are here on your beats."
Other group members busied themselves collecting signatures on a petition that asks that the camera installation be put to a halt. "A couple hundred" signatures were gathered from local residents and tourists passing by on January 16.
Although the signatures will be presented to Zapf's office, there's no indication that any changes to the installation plans are imminent. Local businesses and a significant population in O.B. have voiced their support for the cameras.