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At least five police agencies are partnering with a doorbell surveillance company owned by Amazon to gain access to footage captured outside homes and businesses.
Katy Stegall reports that the program is meant to reduce package thefts and other types of crime, and it benefits not only law enforcement but one of the world’s largest corporations — raising questions about the proper relationship between tech and police in an era of “smart technology.”
Police agencies portray these partnerships as a win-win for residents because the footage is voluntarily uploaded and because the program isn’t relying on taxpayer money. Still, the deals are being struck without the wider knowledge of the public and elected officials.
A researcher with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation also pointed out that the doorbell devices, while not costing police anything, help drive a monthly source of revenue to a private company. La Mesa police gave away a handful of the doorbell devices through a social media contest.
There are also privacy considerations. The doorbells does not come with facial recognition software, but they could in the near future. Late last year, Amazon filed a patent for technology capable of identifying faces through doorbell devices. The ACLU has advocated against facial recognition technology because it’s been shown to disproportionately misidentify women and people of color.
The doorbells are just one piece of a growing system of surveillance in our region.
Earlier this year, Jesse Marx reported that the city’s “smart streetlights” were equipped with cameras. Even members of the City Council were unaware that police had been accessing the footage.
In 2016, we also reported that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department had quietly launched a drone program with no public input. Chula Vista purchased similar technology. Those camera-equipped drones had been used in more than 400 incidents in the first five months of the program, NBC 7 reported.
The North County Transit Debate Rolls on
Conservative politicians in North County are rallying against tolls on roads and highways as a tax that’ll hit low-income folks the hardest and as form of unwarranted surveillance on everyone else. But no one at the San Diego Association of Governments is proposing that. At least not yet.
In the North County Report, Marx breaks down the latest dispute over the future of transportation funding — a dispute that will likely frame the District 3 race for supervisor in 2020.
Supervisor Kristin Gaspar has signaled support for the current system, which allows people to pay for the privilege of using carpool lanes on the I-15. What she appears to be against is a larger system of tolling that applies to all drivers.
She proposed two weeks ago that SANDAG take that type of tolling off the table as the agency considers a new long-term transportation plan, but the proposal narrowly failed. She then took her fight to the public and released a website where people could register their opinions.
Meanwhile, in the South Bay: Coronado passed a resolution officially opposing SANDAG’s “5 Big Moves,” a set of principles that’ll define the agency’s vision of transportation planning for decades to come. City officials are concerned that they’re going to lose $25 million for improvements to arterial highways and roads meant to ease traffic congestion. (Union-Tribune)
New Ruling Deals Major Blow to San Diego Zero Tolerance Cases
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of an immigrant the government said entered the country illegally, throwing the legality of hundreds of similar convictions in jeopardy, reports VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan.
For the last year and a half, San Diego’s federal court has been thrown into chaos by the surge in criminal prosecutions of immigrants accused of crossing into the country illegally. The ruling means that aggressive crackdown, and all the resulting problems, might have been for nothing.
That 9th Circuit ruled that prosecutors erred in how they charged the man at the center of the case. Hundreds of others have been charged the same way.
Trump’s new fast-track deportations rule is causing confusion and fear in immigrant communities, the U-T reports.
Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arrested Perla Morales-Luna and accused her of human smuggling, but never prosecuted. Still, CityBeat reported Wednesday, the single mother remains in legal limbo.
Faulconer Becomes National Star on Homelessness
In the past few weeks, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer seems to have become a conservative media darling when it comes to battling a major homelessness crisis, writes the U-T’s Michael Smolens.
Smolens notes outlets like Fox News and the New York Post have observed San Diego’s “dramatic action” and spending millions on temporary tent shelters and storage facilities where homeless people can stow their belongings.
Indeed, San Diego County’s homeless population this year was tallied at 8,102 –– a 6 percent decrease from the previous year.
But, as Smolens points out, there are some caveats to that decrease.
VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt explained in the spring how this year’s point-in-time count numbers reflect changes to the process made at the direction of federal officials. A separate stat, Halverstadt reported, shows homelessness could be more than triple the number found in the count.
NBC 7 also pointed out last month how arrests and citations have become San Diego’s answer to addressing homelessness.
In Other News
- A Solana Beach man pleaded guilty to paying $250,000 to get his son into the University of Southern California as a fake volleyball recruit. He’s the 23rd defendant to plead guilty in the national college bribery scandal. (Associated Press)
- A bike advocate said he’s received threatening and abusive messages after KUSI falsely reported that he was orchestrating a boycott of businesses not in favor of protected bike lanes in North Park. (Uptown News)
- The San Diego County Board of Supervisors announced a plan to expand its fight against opioid abuse. (NBC San Diego)
- Pay increases, a marketing campaign and streamlined background checks all helped San Diego attract more police officer recruits, shrinking the number of vacancies by 20 percent since last fall. (Union-Tribune)
- San Diego County plans to streamline its discretionary permit process in hopes of bolstering housing development in unincorporated areas of the county. (Union-Tribune)
- Former employees of a youth migrant shelter in El Cajon say children and workers there were badly mistreated. (NBC San Diego)
Our Wednesday story on local police agencies’ partnerships with Ring mischaracterized a fee the company charges to users. It charges a monthly subscription fee to Ring users who want to store footage and access other services.
The Morning Report was written by Maya Srikrishnan and Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.