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Supes advance ‘black box’ legislation for public safety vehicles

San Francisco’s public safety vehicles could soon join many other city-owned vehicles in having a telematics system or “black box” installed, which will help the City track driving behaviors of its employees.

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee introduced legislation in 2016 to add the devices to a majority of city vehicles after finding that San Francisco paid nearly $77 million due to litigation from 2010 to 2014 in cases related to city-owned vehicles.

While the board passed Yee’s 2016 legislation, it did not include public safety vehicles, such as those used by police and fire personnel.

Yee’s current proposal, which was approved by the BOS Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Thursday with positive recommendation to the full board, now includes public safety vehicles used by police and fire departments.

Yee said that the devices are not a new idea and that San Francisco is lagging behind other cities who already have the devices installed in their public safety vehicles.

Yee said:

“Typically, San Francisco leads the nation and sets precedents. In this case, we care actually behind the curve. In fact, New York City Police Department have had similar technology for more than 15 years.”

The police and fire departments have until June 30, 2020 to install the devices.

The devices track data such as the location, speed history, hard braking and acceleration, idling, usage times and diagnostic information of the vehicle. Currently, 4,072 vehicles and pieces of equipment are active, according to the City Administrator’s Office, which tracks of the City’s fleet.

The office said 1,851 law enforcement vehicles and investigative service vehicles are exempt from Yee’s 2016 legislation.

Yee said having the telematics installed will improve safety on the streets as the City can track the speeds of vehicles.

Yee said:

“It’s used as a tool to train and improve driving habits.”

Adam Nguyen, director of finance and planning for the City Administrator’s Office, said San Francisco has seen a number of benefits, including retiring 67 underutilized vehicles in 2018 and reduction of speeding by two-thirds.

Nguyen added that dispatch service for emergencies could greatly improve.

Nguyen said:

“If you see every single vehicle or asset that you have, and you have calls for service, you can use that information to more efficiently dispatch those vehicles for that response, or during a major emergency to also identify those vehicles and then deploy them.”

Originally, police and fire departments pushed back against the idea of the installing the devices, but are now on board after two years of research and meetings with Yee’s office. Police Capt. Alexa O’Brien told committee members that the devices do have the potential to improve safety and response times.

O’Brien said:

“We are in support of telematics.”

A budget legislative analyst report said it would cost the City approximately $370,000 to install the devices on the vehicles. The full Board of Supervisors will vote on Yee’s legislation on June 18.

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