By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
Ocean Beach has just been notified that the City of San Diego intends to install ten police surveillance cameras along OB’s waterfront, from the Pier to the River. This project has been announced lately at recent community meetings, such as the OB Town Council.
And it has been announced as a done-deal by police representatives, and they will be going up sometime over the next weeks or so, sometime between the end of November to the first of the New Year – and will cost $25,000 to install.
Without knowing who from the community has requested them, the appearance of police officers telling community members that they are installing surveillance cameras for their benefit is somewhat unsettling.
Putting aside the Constitutional and privacy issues just for a moment, let’s look at what we know so far.
OB is told that the police need these cameras due to the crimes along the beach and waterfront, that they will be mainly “deterrents” and set up in key locations. They won’t be pointed at residences and will only be viewed for “after-the-fact” occurrences, or for “stings”.
First, there has been no community-wide debate or discussion on whether OB wants or needs these cameras. Okay, perhaps one or two groups have requested them, but what about the rest of us? Who gets to say that the village wants them? And why does a small minority get to have their way on whether the cameras go up?
There’s definitely a split in OB on the issue. When the OB Rag ran a poll on the cameras, only 38% of those who responded said the community needs them, whereas another 61% said OB is not ready for them.
Where’s the money coming from? Is it from Homeland Security, federal funds? And why is this amount of money suddenly available, when Ocean Beach can’t get air conditioning in its library, or improvements to the lifeguard station?
And why is this project on such a fast-track? From idea to installation, we’re looking at 2 months, maybe. Compare this to the 12 years it took OB to get a children’s cross-walk at OB Elementary School.
Importantly, where is the evidence that OB and its waterfront need these cameras. In fact, San Diego crime statistics are at a 35-year low, as both violent and property crimes have fallen city-wide.
Has there been a spike in crimes in OB, a surge or a spree? Sure, there’s been some violence and some thefts – but are these crimes at a high point sufficient to call in the cavalry with videos? Let’s see the statistics. Show us why this village needs such an affront to civil rights.
Critics of the cameras say that they will simply push those who commit the crimes to another block or out of view.
Conjuring up the boogeyman of the some travelers first busted in OB who later went on to commit murders in northern California doesn’t make the case. If the waterfront in OB is so dangerous, let’s add extra patrols of actual police officers who can make arrests right then and there.
We’re also told that the cameras will greatly help the OB Lifeguards. How, exactly? How would the cameras have helped the lifeguards – who made a record number of 75 rescues on October 10th – make those rescues?
Okay, back to the Constitutional and privacy issues.
Police representatives tell us this is not “Big Brother”, that good citizens have nothing to be concerned or worried about, that ordinary residents will not be video-recorded or viewed, that the cameras will not be secret, that in fact, there will be signs announcing their presence.
Having cameras at a public beach and waterfront is more government over-reach, an abridgment of privacy rights, an invasion of public space for very narrow interests or reasons. Conservatives are pushing this project – but many conservatives want ‘less-government’ at the same time. How does this jive with this type of libertarianism?
A free people on the beach ought to be secure in the knowledge that police are not watching them – either in real time or in a later time.
Certainly, the cameras will be public – BUT – the recordings certainly will not be! This is such a “straw-man” type of argument – ‘they won’t be secret’. Of course not – that’s not the issue – the issue is secret recordings of public space and the free citizens within it.
We are told that we need these cameras and one of them will be installed under the OB Pier. What about the camera already present at the end of the Pier? What about the 4 cameras already up on the Police Trailer? Why now do we need even more cameras?
Sure, we’re told, well, other communities like PB and Mission Beach have them. We could argue that no one actually lives in Mission Beach and PB is, well, PB.
But what makes me hesitate is the thought that maybe, someday, police representatives will be at some community meeting in some other part of the city, and say, ‘well, listen, even Ocean Beach – the most liberal community in the city – even OB has them ….’
If you are concerned about the police cameras and wish to discuss the issue – please attend a citizens’ meeting on Sat., Nov. 7th at the OB Green Store, 4843 Voltaire at noon.