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Smile! City installs ‘camera-vision’ on La Jolla streetlights

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A CityIQ sensor node is attached to a streetlight in La Jolla.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

As part of the City of San Diego’s “Smart Streetlights” program, camera-vision technology, aka CityIQ sensor nodes, are being installed on La Jolla lampposts. These sensors record data such as pedestrian movement, vehicle movement, parking activity and more.

While centered in downtown San Diego, approximately 30 have been installed in La Jolla — from Bird Rock to The Shores — and a full roll-out is expected by 2020. The sensors only cover areas in the public right-of-way.

The project started when the City pursued changing standard lights on lampposts to high-efficiency LED lights to save energy costs and meet the City’s Climate Action Plan.

“That evolved into an opportunity to take these 30-foot poles and add additional technology to them, including the sensors,” said Cody Hooven, San Diego Chief of Sustainability. “We installed sensors on 3,200 streetlights so far Citywide, with another 1,000 coming. These sensors take this single-use equipment and make it multi-use.”

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The image and video data is captured and stored on the sensor and overwritten every five days; and the metadata, such as the number of pedestrians that passed under it or the temperature, is uploaded onto a cloud and stored for seven years.

“The sensors monitor the number of people moving around the City and how they are getting around, how many people are parking where, who is biking, etc.,” Hooven said. “They do that with camera-vision technology. The camera looks down at the street and processes what it sees into numerical data for use. For example, 18 people walked in this direction in this time period. That is the data we use.”

This data is intended to help the City evaluate traffic patterns, determine where bicycle lanes are needed, potential app development as needed and more, and give the City real-time accurate data to help with future planning and meeting the goals of the Climate Action Plan. Right now, the City uses projections, estimates and counts on select streets.

“We’re still learning how to best manage this information and how to ingest it properly,” Hooven said.

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The metadata — such as vehicle movement, pedestrian activity, temperature — all gets sent to the cloud and is available for public viewing at sandiego.gov/sustainability (Click on the “Energy and Water Efficiency” tab, then “Smart City” on the right side of the page.)

Crime-fighting tool?

The video data is stored for five days and can only be downloaded by the San Diego Police Department if a major crime is committed in the area, if requested in that five-day period.

San Diego Police Department Lt. Jeffrey Jordon, who oversees the program, told The San Diego Union-Tribune the sensors have been “game changing” and that “it’s a reactive tool, typically accessed following a violent crime.”

The sensors do not contain facial recognition software or license-plate reading technology.

As of this month, such video has been viewed in connection with more than 140 police investigations Citywide. Officers have turned to the footage to help crack cases as frequently as 20 times a month.

Police department officials said the video footage has been crucial in roughly 40 percent of these cases.

Is Big Brother watching?

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“People think its surveillance, but we are not watching it,” Hooven said. “We don’t have enough people to do the work we need to do, let alone sit in a room and watch this footage. The public shouldn’t worry about their privacy being invaded, because it’s not. But we understand the government saying ‘trust us’ isn’t always comforting. But the sensors only view the public right of way, nothing private is being reported.”

In other areas where this technology has been adopted, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have pushed city councils across the country to adopt oversight ordinances that create strict rules.

Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU, said: “Decisions about how to use surveillance technology should not be made unilaterally by law enforcement or another city agency … There needs to be meaningful oversight and accountability.”

Conversations are ongoing as to how to use the data and its oversight in San Diego. “We have written some policies to govern the use of that data,” Hooven said. “The police has written policies and I have written policies for my department. We would also like to have a discussion with City Council … to make recommendations for an oversight committee. We are wrapping up outreach for the next month, and will present to the City Council in the fall, and then have ongoing discussions from there.”

How to weigh-in

The City is hosting workshops about “data being generated by our new streetlight sensors, what it can and can’t do, how privacy is being protected, and collect ideas from our residents and businesses on how to improve the system” in the coming weeks. The nearest workshop to La Jolla has already taken place, but two more are scheduled.

The first is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27 at the Logan Heights Branch Library, 567 South 28th St., San Diego; the second is 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10 at the Rancho Bernardo Library, 17110 Bernardo Center Drive, San Diego.

Want to Know More?

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News about the Smart Streetlights program can be read at sandiego.gov/sustainability (Click on the ‘Energy and Water Efficiency’ tab, then ‘Smart City’ on the right side of the page.)

Find the full map of sensor locations at cityiqmapsd.herokuapp.com


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