Proposal to install cameras in San Francisco’s Castro District sparks controversy

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – A Castro community group in San Francisco wants to install cameras in the neighborhood to prevent crime and hold criminals accountable.

The group called Castro Community Benefit District would use donations to install the cameras but the proposal is receiving pushback from multiple groups in the city over privacy concerns.

Proponents against the plan say the location of these cameras plays a significant role in their hesitation.

This historically LGBTQ neighborhood is a place of free expression and some worry that the cameras may be abused or used in the wrong way when it comes to discrimination against the queer community.

Controversial cameras are being considered in San Francisco’s Castro District.

A neighborhood community group says it wants to use donations to install the cameras for the purposes of preventing crime.

“It helps in convictions and that’s what we want to make sure that there are consequences to crime,” Andrea Aiello said.

Andrea Aiello with the Castro Community Benefit District says they proposed the plan after seeing many small businesses vandalized and broken into this past year. 

She says the cameras would strictly be used for crime investigations only.

“It works to get the right person and the video tells the truth so this video footage would be available to law enforcement whether it’s the police, whether it’s the DA for documented crime when there’s a police crime, that’s it,” Aiello said.

However, several organizations in the city, like the Harvey Milk Democratic LGBTQ Club, oppose the plan over privacy concerns. They also worry the camera footage could be used for the wrong reasons by police. 

“There’s very little evidence that these cameras deter crime and there is ample evidence particularly in this neighborhood that they are used to chill free expression, the target protestors, to target HIV and aids patients who are trying to access medication. That is the danger that these cameras present,” Lee Hepner said.

Aiello says the Castro CBD is considering policy guidelines that would prevent law enforcement from accessing the cameras in real-time and says the footage would be deleted after 30 days.

When it comes to privacy, Aiello says there are already live public cameras on Castro Street, in addition to hundreds of others in the area.

“Castro Street has something called the Castro Cam run by the SFBay Times and that’s been up for at least 5 years and that’s 24/7 streaming all over the world,” Aiello said.

The Castro Community Benefit District stresses the cameras wouldn’t be controlled by the police department and instead by the community. 

Such cameras already exist in the Tenderloin and Union Square neighborhoods but those camera networks came into question when police used them to monitor protests this past summer.

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