Sure, security cameras are more than a little creepy, and that hearing that San Francisco contains more than a thousand of them is more likely to make you feel exposed and anxious than warm and fuzzy. But Josh Daniels believes there's a flip side to all these cameras — that the watchful eye of Big Brother can just as easily evoke protection as persecution — and he hopes to his new-to-SF web video surveillance mapping project, CommunityCam, will make the city safer. The website—a product of VideoSurveillance.com, an online supplier of video cameras and surveillance systems—allows users to pin surveillance camera locations to an online map of San Francisco, providing a resource for both victims of crime and people seeking safer routes around town.
“Our hope,” says Josh Daniels, the president and founder of VideoSurveillance.com, “is that CommunityCam will become a critical tool for local law enforcement and empower citizens to take part in solving and preventing crime in their communities." The idea is that using the crowd-sourced map, crime victims can find surveillance cameras near the location of the incident and pass the information along to the police.
CommunityCam’s creators also hope that the map will prove a valuable resource in local police investigations. As an example, they point to a crime that recently occurred in the early morning hours after Pride Week’s Pink Saturday. The footage taken from a nearby surveillance camera, which shows a group robbing and violently assaulting a woman in the Castro, proved instrumental in helping police identify and arrest suspects. “[The police] are often resource- and budget-constrained and don’t have the ability to invest in this kind of technology,” says Daniels, “but are very interested in camera locations given the evidentiary benefits of surveillance video.”
As of its Bay Area launch, CommunityCam has plotted the location of more than 1000 security cameras in the city, and more than 500 in the East Bay. According to the map’s current pins, the more camera-dense locations in San Francisco include the Financial District, North Beach, parts of the Inner Richmond, and major avenues in the Mission.
Daniels beleives that CommunityCam’s utility also extends to groups susceptible to hit-and-run accidents, such as cyclists, runners, and pedestrians, arguing that with knowledge of where the most cameras are located, these groups can better plan safe routes with more surveillance.
Although camera owners are not required to lend footage upon request, Daniels notes that they tend to be very generous when incidents occur. “What we have seen,” he says, “is that in the event of criminal incidents people are very willing to help their neighbors and community members.” CommunityCam also cannot guarantee that all mapped cameras are operational or recording, and the map itself is not yet totally comprehensive. To that end, Daniels encourages San Francisco residents to sign up for the free service and contribute their own pins to the map.