After several prior discussions, Berkeley City Council unanimously passed guidance regulating the use of the city’s external fixed video surveillance cameras Tuesday.
The Berkeley Police Department and personnel shall now adhere to the newly passed guidance, which applies only to their fixed, overt, marked video surveillance systems. Further, new guidance outlines the specific and transparent uses of fixed surveillance such as anti-crime strategy, effectively deploying personnel and enhancing safety and security in public spaces.
Several public commenters expressed support for the cameras during the meeting, citing child safety as one positive impact. One parent of an incoming UC Berkeley student voiced concerned over frequent crimes such as theft, battery and sexual assault. Another commenter said fixed surveillance cameras could help with deterring such crimes.
“I’m glad this is going forward,” said Josh Buzzell, a public commenter from district two, at the meeting. “Five years ago, my two kids had their first run-in with gun violence in Berkeley at San Pablo Park. We were there for a birthday party when a drive-by shooting happened. My youngest was there, three, and my eldest was five, and for a second I couldn’t find my oldest son. It was the longest three seconds of my life.”
Following the shooting, Buzzell said the council placed surveillance cameras in the park, which reduced shootings nearby, yet other parks remained vulnerable. Further, Buzzell feels he is frequently putting his children at risk in his city and hopes Berkeley moves forward with other public safety measures.
Though many councilmembers and the public are in favor of the potential safety fixed surveillance cameras offer the community, Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn are concerned with the location of the surveillance cameras.
“These cameras are being deployed in lower-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods that have been traditionally Black and Brown,” Hahn said at the meeting. “I don’t want surveillance there. I want purposeful deployment of equipment that is actually yielding useful information.”
For maximum efficiency, Hahn said the location of surveillance cameras should be reviewed now and in five years after installation.
The council also approved budget and finance plans to identify $9 million to fill Measure T1 funding gaps for associated projects, including the African American Holistic Resource Center, or AAHRC.
“Even though it is an African-American centered community, I know personally as a Japanese American that we also have a community center and for years we hopped around from church to church from senior center to senior center and we finally got a little bit more established,” said Grace Morizawa, chair of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, during the public comment. “By doing that, it provided these unexpected awards, people developed leadership. We were able to do things we never dreamed of.”
Another public commenter spoke to the progress made by youth at the AAHRC — one individual graduated from UC Berkeley and started working as an engineer and another started studying to become a nurse. The commenter called the center “a movement,” rather than just a project.