Journalism won’t die if you donate. Support Voice of San Diego today!
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
City leaders pitched using a new technology to improve people’s lives and help government run more efficiently.
But in practice, the technology isn’t used in the way citizens were told, and from the beginning, a lack of guidelines and policies guiding its use made things far murkier than they needed to be.
That’s the reality of “smart” streetlights, as Jesse Marx reported this week. The tech was billed as a way to help improve traffic flow, but in reality it’s become a surveillance device for SDPD, whose access to the footage captured by the devices was never discussed during the approval process. (Two City Council members didn’t even know SDPD had access to the footage until Marx told them.)
But it’s also the reality of police body cameras, which were sold to San Diego residents as a transparency tool to keep police officers more accountable to the public. In reality, they’re a tool reserved almost exclusively for the police themselves. If you want to see footage captured by the devices, well, it’s virtually impossible. (A new state law will soon open up some of the most serious incidents captured by body cams.)
When body cameras were approved by the City Council in 2014, the ACLU rightly pointed out that there weren’t sufficient policies in place to allow citizens to obtain the footage, or regarding officers who violate the rules – such as by not turning on the camera before a serious encounter like a shooting.
There are currently no rules guiding SDPD’s use of the smart streetlight footage – so now, two years after the technology was approved, we’re starting to write them. And by we, I mean the police themselves are writing the rules regarding what they are allowed to do with the footage.
The rollouts of both technologies should serve as a reminder to residents and members of the San Diego City Council that new devices and tech deserve a vigorous and thorough vetting before they’re approved, no matter how beneficial the person or group peddling them makes them seem.
What VOSD Learned This Week
Smart streetlights aren’t the only way San Diego is taking precarious steps into the future. SANDAG wants to incorporate plans for self-driving cars and hyperloops into its long-term vision, but it’s not clear when those technologies will actually materialize.
More than two years into the city attorney’s S.M.A.R.T program, which connects people who have a string of misdemeanor arrests with addiction treatment and housing, only a handful of clients have graduated and the city has struggled to expand the program despite significant investment.
Say goodbye to a classic San Diego Special: The Plaza de Panama project is officially dead.
Don’t worry though, the fight over short-term vacation rentals is still going strong. The latest on that front is a state bill that would put incredibly strict limits on vacation rentals within San Diego County.
Naturally, we talked about another San Diego Special on the podcast this week: the neverending slog to expand the Convention Center. The mayor’s office finally got a win on that front.
Last week, Will Huntsberry painted a disturbing picture of families struggling to secure services for their children at Porter Elementary. This week, he spoke with the family of Walter J. Porter, the school’s namesake about how the school came to be named for Porter and its history of challenges.
What I’m Reading
- What changes when the presidential field is full of mothers. (The Cut)
- Shot: In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg said he was focused on fixing Facebook, and its fake news problems in particular. Those efforts, uh, haven’t gone well. Chaser: Private Facebook groups are the platform’s last saving grace, particularly for women. (Wired, Buzzfeed News)
- The Trump administration has taken nearly twice as long to approve federal disaster relief for communities reeling from catastrophes than under President Barack Obama. (E&E News)
- Conservative pundits are always pushing to “debate” their foes – but it’s never in good faith. This piece does an excellent job of calling out fake intellectualism and the internet’s dumb debate culture. (The Ringer)
Line of the Week
“As the company has broadened its messaging, it has also incorporated more foodlike qualities into its anti-food. Soylent is now available in seven flavors, some caffeinated, including ‘Cacao’ and ‘Cafe Chai,’ invoking other drink-adjacent tastes.” – Hard pass on these for me.