(Photo courtesy of San Francisco Police Department)

San Francisco’s public safety vehicles could soon join the rest of the city-owned vehicles in having a telematics system or “black box” installed in them, which will help the city keep track of driving behavior of city employees.

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee in 2016 had introduced legislation to add the devices into 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 police and fire vehicles.

Yee’s current proposal, which passed out of the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee on June 6 with positive recommendation to the full board, will now include public safety vehicles from the 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.

“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 will have until June 30, 2020, to install the devices.

The devices track data such as the location of the vehicle, the history of speeds, hard braking and acceleration, whether a vehicle is idling, hours and days used, and diagnostic information of the vehicle.

Currently, 4,072 vehicles and pieces of equipment are active, according to the City Administrator’s Office, which keeps tracks of the city’s fleet.

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

Yee said having the telematics installed will help with safety on the streets as the city can track the speeds of vehicles. “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 reduced speeding by two-thirds.

Nguyen added that dispatch service for emergencies could greatly improve.

“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,” he said.

Originally, the police and fire departments had pushed back against the idea of the installing the devices, but are now on board after two years of research and Yee’s office meeting with department officials.

Police Capt. Alexa O’Brien told committee members that the devices do have the potential to improve safety and help with response times in real-time. “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.