Berkeley already has surveillance cameras in San Pablo Park and two other locations. It wants to place them at 10 intersections too. Credit: Brian Hofer

The City Council has unanimously agreed on a policy for fixed surveillance cameras, clearing the way to install 10 new ones at city intersections, an upgrade police and other officials say will help them crack down on a number of crimes that have spiked in recent years, such as shootings and catalytic converter thefts.

Disagreements over retention periods for camera footage, among other issues, held up the matter when the council last brought it up May 23. A proposal from Councilmember Kate Harrison would have cut the retention period to 30 days rather than a year, as the proposal was written when it came up.

By Tuesday, the council members had settled on 180 days through a pair of proposed compromises, one submitted by Councilmembers Terry Taplin and Susan Wengraf, the other by councilmembers Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn and Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Taplin chairs the Public Safety Policy Committee, which largely helped shape the policy. Wengraf also sits on the committee.

“People come to my district and shoot at my neighbors. I want that investigated using modern tools maintained by the city,” Taplin said Tuesday. “No one should have to put up with violent crime, but when these crimes do occur we should have the assuredness that the city will respond with gravity and resolve.”

Harrison said she wanted “to dispel any notion that the delay on May 23 was a product of an effort to kill or deprioritize the cameras,” adding that she’d voted twice in the council’s Budget and Finance Policy Committee to fund the hardware.

The issue, she said, “was a result of drafting issues first raised by the (Police Accountability Board) but not adequately addressed through the drafting process.”

The new cameras are meant to be installed at these intersections:

  • Sixth Street and University Avenue
  • San Pablo and University avenues
  • Seventh Street and Dwight Way
  • San Pablo Avenue and Dwight Way
  • Seventh Street and Ashby Avenue
  • San Pablo and Ashby avenues
  • Sacramento Street at Ashby Avenue
  • College and Ashby avenues
  • Claremont and Ashby avenues
  • 62nd and King streets

Cameras already in place at the Berkeley Marina and San Pablo Park will also be subject to the new use policy.

Opponents from around the city have said the cameras pose privacy issues and will contribute to over-policing of poor communities and communities of color, while proponents have encouraged the city to get the cameras up and running as a deterrent to and means of investigating crimes like shootings, auto thefts and burglaries.

Earlier versions of the policy would also have applied to cameras at the city’s waste transfer station, but Tuesday’s version had excised those. Several officers with SEIU 1021, the union representing city waste management workers, had previously objected to what they saw as officials discussing the policy without consulting workers.

Updates to the policy language were also more restrictive than earlier versions, narrowing the permitted uses to certain investigations, natural disasters and “critical incidents” from longer lists of proposed uses.

Also included in the measure passed Tuesday were some limited circumstances under which city police could request drone flights from outside agencies.

In 2012, the City Council considered, but ultimately rejected, a recommendation from the Peace and Justice Commission to make Berkeley a “No Drone Zone.” The council approved limited uses for the Berkeley Fire Department but, remaining leery of use by police, put a one-year moratorium on the police department’s use or acquisition of drones in 2015, even though the department had no plans to borrow or buy one.

While the new policy does not allow city police to fly drones, they can request them through mutual aid in cases of mass-casualty incidents, disasters, lost or missing persons, releases of hazardous materials, sideshows, rescues, training and situations where officers would otherwise be put at risk, including those with armed or barricaded subjects, hostages and “other unforeseen exigent circumstances,” according to the new policy.

Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...