Friday, July 15, 2011

Oakland crime-fighting bid - cameras in businesses

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In a novel effort to increase surveillance in a crime-plagued area, Oakland city leaders have purchased a batch of cameras for merchants in the Fruitvale district who were unable to afford them.
The deal with the merchants, who must allow police to view the footage, comes three months after the slaying of a community leader in Fruitvale, and as the city attorney's office seeks a civil injunction against alleged gang members in the neighborhood.
The roughly 30 cameras were paid for with $35,000 in redevelopment money. They will be installed inside and outside of local businesses, including Otaez Restaurant, where robbers shot owner Jesus "Chuy" Campos to death on April 8.
"Everyone was well aware of the level of crime," said Jose Dorado, 63, who owns a bookkeeping business and was raised in the neighborhood. But the Campos killing "brought issues to a head. That pretty much woke everybody up."
Within hours of the April 8 slaying, merchants had a meeting with Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Anthony Batts to ask for help in reducing crime.
They also petitioned the City Council for more motorcycle cops and increased patrols. Officers on all-terrain motorcycles have been trained in recent months and are expected soon.
"It's a sad commentary that these improvements in security come about because somebody was killed," said Dorado, who had known Campos for more than 25 years. "Somebody gets run over, and they put up a stop light."
Fruitvale merchants, Oakland police officials, Quan and Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, who represents the district, will formally announce the installation of the cameras this afternoon at Otaez.
The cameras will be put in businesses in a 2-square-mile area on International Boulevard, Fruitvale Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. Police officers identified critical intersections for coverage, while city staff surveyed the area to see who had existing cameras covering streets.
For example, International Boulevard between 34th and 40th will now be largely covered. The program is similar to one being used in Oakland's Chinatown.
Oakland police will have access to the data, which will be kept at each business and will contain roughly 30 days' worth of footage, according to De La Fuente's office. Business owners will maintain the cameras and will be able to access the video online while away.

Privacy concerns

Civil liberties advocates, however, have criticized the use of taxpayer funds for cameras, saying they harm privacy while yielding little value.
Michael Risher, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said the city needs to lay out clear rules on whether the tapes are considered a public record and whether people other than police officers - like defense or civil attorneys - should have access.
"You cannot have a system that gives police unilateral authority to decide what gets kept and what gets thrown out," he said.
The camera program is part of a trend in which some Bay Area cities have partnered with private businesses in recent years in an effort to increase surveillance.
The trend can be seen in Pittsburg, where a business park bought seven cameras and then gave the Police Department access to the footage in real time - something Oakland's cameras will not be equipped to do. In Richmond, Target helped pay for cameras the city mounted on public property near a store that opened in 2008.
In El Cerrito, officials established an ordinance in 2008 that required certain businesses - including liquor stores, gun dealers, pawnshops and check-cashers - to put in cameras and allow police to inspect them. The city offered matching grants of up to $5,000 to help the merchants.

Poor images

But some cities have had trouble getting into the surveillance camera business, including San Francisco. After then-Mayor Gavin Newsom installed dozens of cameras in public spaces in 2005, some produced poor-quality footage because of problems with wireless connections and data-storage space.
In Oakland, officials said, the cameras will capture video at a rate of 30 frames per second, similar to a movie. Oakland's cameras also have night-vision capability.
Surveillance cameras owned by merchants have contributed to police investigations, such as the theft of a Pablo Picasso drawing from a San Francisco art gallery last week. De La Fuente said he wishes the Fruitvale cameras would have been in place earlier, noting that Campos' killers are still on the loose.


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