San Francisco's attempts at citywide surveillance over the years have been complicated, expensive and, at times, counterproductive. But there's no denying the fact that surveillance cameras have helped decrease crime by up to 24 percent in certain areas of the city.
Originally, supporters of the surveillance network touted it as a way to decrease the frequency of violent crimes, not just non-violent burglary, purse-snatching and the like. However, since the camera system isn't monitored live, the video is really only helpful as evidence, not prevention. (Unfortunately, the city's strict privacy controls prohibit real-time monitoring.)
However, the San Francisco Examiner recently revealed another, unexpected role that the suveillance cameras are playing.
The new trend has San Francisco defense lawyers using video footage to exonerate falsely-accused clients. Several defendants have been cleared of charges thanks to the cameras, which proved their alibis or disproved others’ accounts of the incident.
And the trend is growing. In fact, nearly one-third of the 109 requests to view the footage last year came from defense attorneys, the Examiner reports.
“We’ve incorporated the existence of surveillance tapes into our practice,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said, adding that his office has a list of all the city surveillance cameras and his attorneys are trained to request the footage.
“It is hit or miss. You have an obligation to secure that evidence,” Adachi said. “They have proven valuable in some cases.”
In one high-profile case, the cameras helped exonerate a man accused of murder. The video footage showed that he had in fact been acting in defense of a disabled woman when he unintentionally killed an attacker.