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Suspect sought in downtown Palo Alto robbery

Original post made on May 15, 2013

Palo Alto police are looking for a man who they say robbed a woman in downtown Monday night after grabbing her by the ponytail and pulling her into an alley as she was walking by.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:43 AM

Comments (23)

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 15, 2013 at 10:04 am

It is really a shame that the City of Palo Alto has yet to see the value of surveillance cameras in the downtown area.

Hopefullly, come the next Council election--rather than talking about more parks, concerned citizens might start asking about how the Police are doing, relative to dealing with crime in our City.

This Council seems oblivious to the matter. Let's hope the next set of candidates are not so beholded to special intersts, and are more representative of the residents, and businesses that depend on Palo Alto's being safe for people to visit, and work in.


Posted by Barbara, a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2013 at 10:50 am

I don't think I'd wait until the next morning to report a robbery. Anyone else??


Posted by foot patrols?, a resident of University South
on May 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

This is a really good argument for more police presence on-foot, walking around downtown, talking to anyone they happen to see waiting in an alley to see what they're up to. And, of course, knowing whom to track down if they hear about something like this, because they know their community when they walk around it more regularly.


Posted by Abe Mitchell, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 15, 2013 at 11:43 am

How pathetic are those yellow bellied hoods becoming? He does not even have the courage to show face let alone the factor he has to attack a female from the rear and pull her hair. Here is another example of how these moronic hoods earn their living, but hopefully he shall be caught and dealt with accordingly. No lean punishment for this hood. Please!!


Posted by Caryn, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Barbara- that was my first thought as well. Why did she wait til morning? Regardless surveillance camera should be placed downtown for this very reason.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I'd like to see a list, say the past two years worth, of crimes in Palo Alto, how many were solved, whether there was a conviction, and whether any penalty was paid or served. Is our problem a low probability of identifying a perpetrator, a low probability of any jail time, or a low awareness among criminals that there's any downside to their behavior?

To consider a surveillance camera solution, even if it was politically workable, has anyone suggested how many thousands of cameras are necessary, where exactly they'd be placed and pointed, the pixel resolution and frame rate, how long the data would be stored? To get adequate coverage the place would have to look like a casino.

There's more than a dozen cameras at the El Camino/Page Mill intersection, and none to my knowledge are capable of resolving a license plate or a person's face.


Posted by events, a resident of Southgate
on May 15, 2013 at 2:27 pm

the universe consciousnes allows events to sneak through no matter how many cameras. we are in a shifting dream ,not a solid reality that we think. just like dreams change, ''real reality'' also shifts magically like a dream. it is not a linear cause and effect reality that is believed. we are entering a shifting reality. the drem is ephemeral. you cant prove it isnt. things happen but there is no direction or predestination.


Posted by thinker, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online.]


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2013 at 5:14 pm

@musical - Why not start with 10 cameras? Or 1 camera? Why is it necessary to have thousands? How about a modest proposal of cameras at the entrances of all the city parking structures. Then go from there.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I agree, contact police ASAP if you are the victim or witness a crime. Time is of the essence.


Posted by Sheesh, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2013 at 6:39 pm

So many "lesser" cities and communities are using surveillance cameras, and. Any are not even in Sillycon Valley? For Palo Alto not to use this is,ple technology shows lassitude, apathy, and ignorance....another tarnishing of the pal Alto brand.


Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on May 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2013 at 10:52 pm

@MrR, how would those data be applicable to the robbery in question? I'd guess Lane 12 would be covered by the 1415th through 1442nd cameras we install. We then might identify a suspect, still be looking for him, need a trial if we ever catch him, and need a jail if we ever convict him. I'm not saying it's impossible. There are already thousands of cameras downtown walking around in people's pockets. We've become inured to lenses on us up and down every aisle in the drug store, but the next step to every sidewalk in the city could be a little creepy. Count the cameras on a VTA bus if you ever ride one. Any idea how many thousands of cameras in their inventory? They have 450 buses and 100 light rail.


Posted by alex, a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2013 at 11:28 pm

We live in a very safe city. It's getting safer all the time. This isn't Disneyland. If you're worried about our welfare, don't drive while distracted. We don't need more government surveillance.


Posted by Sommelier, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2013 at 8:53 am

The poor young woman was simply walking to her car after work! it is shameful that a high-tech city like Palo Alto, the birthplace of Silicon Valley, does not have one single dingle surveillance camera in its downtown district!


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 16, 2013 at 9:11 am

> We live in a very safe city. It's getting safer all the time.

For the most part, this is true. Data filed with the DoJ/FBI (which is eventually available on-line) shows that virtually all of the crime types tracked by DoJ have declined by about 30%, over the past twenty-five years—with the exception of murder, the occurrences of which seem to stay about the same (0-3/year). Property crimes, however, do spike from time-to-time.

Unfortunately, the Palo Alto police does not publish its "closure rates"—the number of cases actually solved per year. Public information requests tend to suggest that the Palo Alto Police close about 15% of the non-murder cases. Since most murders are committed in the home, or by people who know the victims, here in Palo Alto—the Police have managed to solve most of those cases. There are a few unsolved murders, still on the books, however.

The issue of surveillance cameras continues to stymie people in this town. The use of these cameras is too complicated to deal with effectively in this forum. However, let's not forget that it was surveillance cameras, as well as personal cameras (cell phones, etc) that helped the authorities identify the Boston Bombers. The police/Feds were able to actually see the Bombers drop a backpack in one instance. While this was an optimum situation, and it's rare that the Authorities are able to record a crime-in-progress, it's not that hard to consider that the cameras might very well record a "perp" wandering around looking for a target, as well as exiting the area after a crime has been committed. Witnesses might very well be able to identify the "perp" from the videos, and images extracted from the digital stream in order to distribute to the public, and other agencies, looking for help in identifying the person(s) involved in a given assault/robbery.

The FBI is in the process of creating a Facial Identification system that local police should be able to use to (hopefully) identify people thought to have been involved in crimes where witnesses are involved. Why shouldn't our town be able to utilize this national crime-fighting capability that we have helped pay for with our taxes?

It wouldn't take that many cameras to cover most of downtown.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 16, 2013 at 10:15 am

Five avenues Homer to Lytton, nine streets Alma to Cowper, comes to about 5 linear miles, or 10 miles of sidewalk counting both sides. Do you want continuous facial recognition resolution or just enough cameras to follow a body from intersection to intersection? A thousand cameras would give you 50-foot spacing. Can you recognize somebody on video 50 feet away?

>> "The use of these cameras is too complicated to deal with effectively in this forum."

I think we could at least outline the technical scope of the problem so that people don't develop unfair expectations.


Posted by alex, a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Wayne,

You are ignoring the obvious rebuttal to your argument. Freedom comes at a price. We send our children to fight and die for it. The least we can do is tolerate a small amount of violence when your alternative is to practically gut our freedom.

The "I don't have anything to hide, so..." argument is irrelevant. Our society progresses, in part, by tolerating deviance.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 6:03 pm

> You are ignoring the obvious rebuttal to your argument.

I'm not ignoring anything, nor can the claim that surveillance cameras be helpful in indentifying criminals be rebutted. I said that this was a complicated issued, and it was difficult to discuss in a venue such as this. That's what I meant.

Certainly people are aware that the Boston Bombers were identified by pictures taken from "surveillance" cameras. So far, given the Authorities have not provided much information as to which pictures they actually used to come up with the two relatively clear pictures of the brothers, so it's totally possible that those pictures were obtained from sources other than the building mounted cameras.

Just today (or yesterday) the *perp* who shot up the Mother's Day Parade in New Orleans was captured, in part from the suveillance pictures that were available to police. Since there were easily a thousand people in the crowd, it's hard to believe that someone didn't recognize this man--so many the surveillance pictures weren't all that valuable.

The London Subway Bombings were solved because of surveillance recordings. Did you ever look the pictures that the London/Metro Police were able to produce from their cameras?

In these cases, what "price" do you think that the people paid in order to allow the police to be able to catch the "perps". In fact, Palo Alto Police often resort to the surveillance cameras of commercial entities to attempt to indentify "perps". There is no public information as to the number of cases solved this way, but if one were to collect all of the press releases for various crimes that have been solved, one would see that surveillance camerss have been utilized where they exist.

Many people use vague claims about "paying a price" in order to be a little safer. Well, that's try, I suppose. Some people pay by serving in the military--to keep American safe. Others pay taxes to support the military, and local/regtional policing. Sooner, or later, all of this comes to a hefty price tag.

Don't think I am ignoring anything--just haven't decided to spend a long time writing up the issues for the limited, and frequently edited, space available to posters.

At some point, it's said that the East German Secret Police hired about half of the population of to spy on the other half. That's a pretty hefty price to pay to maintain an authoritarian state. That's not what I am suggesting.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 17, 2013 at 8:17 am


> I think we could at least outline the technical scope of the problem

I don't think the technical scope of installing cameras, themselves, is that complicated, although selecting the equipment might be more difficult today, than in the past, since there are more choices for police departments to consider.

While there are technical issues, as I see it, the more difficult problems are operational, political, and legal. There are some police departments that have claimed that the crime rates have not been deterred by the installation of these cameras; the LAPD (if memory serves) at one point claimed that up to 40% of the cameras were out-of-service—thereby producing nothing of value. This particular problem could have been foreseen, and cameras chosen that have internal/external, diagnostics—producing alerts to the police that a service call was needed. It would seem, however, that the LAPD didn't purchase this sort of equipment.

In order for a network of deployed equipment to be of use—it has to be very reliable, weatherized, and ruggedized--to resist casual tampering and vandalism. This equipment needs to be serviced immediately, when that service is needed. The police either need to budget for an outside organization to do the installation/maintenance, or they would need to obtain these services from an inter-City department, such as Public Works, which might not see maintenance on these units with the same sense of urgency that the Police would.

One of the problems that needs to be considered is how to obtain meaningful pictures. Many building-mounted, or pole-mounted cameras produce pictures that do not provide clear access to people's, making recognition of "persons of interest" difficult. So, adding to the technical choices for the police is the need to find cameras that can be mounted in ways that provide clearer facial images. This easily could require a certain amount of R&D—which small police departments don't always seem to be willing to fund.

So far, other than the issue of finding "NextGen" cameras, nothing particularly difficult has been suggested. The problems occur after the cameras are in use—what to do with the recordings, how long to save the recordings, who should be able to access the recordings, to what extent is the City responsible for improper use of the recordings, and so on? Most of these issues have not been openly discussed here in Palo Alto—outside of the scope of the digital cameras on Taser weapons.

In one case, a person who was "Tased" claims that the recordings of the incident where he was involved were edited. While the police denied the charge, questions were raised by this incident that have never been addressed by the Palo Alto police—such as:

1) Who is in charge of the Taser recordings?
2) How long are these recordings maintained?
3) What security exists to thwart police editing of the recordings?
4) How can the public gain access to these recordings?

These same questions are on the table for any surveillance cameras that might be deployed locally. These are not "rocket science" questions to answer. Other towns have managed to deploy surveillance cameras—so these towns probably have answers to these questions that work. Sadly, our town doesn't seem to have done much thinking about the implications of these sorts of technologies, relative to the police department.

Facial recognition systems are now on-line that offer the police the ability to use the recordings to identify people through the use of stored images, and software that came compare these images. False positives have been the bug-a-boo of these systems for almost a decade. However, developers of these systems continue to make progress, and soon the FBI will have a nationwide system that police should be able to use to help them identify people from images that their surveillance systems collect.

There are many Palo Altans, I think, who still believe that surveillance cameras require people sitting in front of monitors to review recordings in order to use the recordings. While people can review the recordings, there is now software that can locate all green cars with a blue drivers (given the appropriate images). Police would than only have to review those sections of the recordings there possible information of value would be found. Getting people to understand the advances in vision systems technology will not be an easy job for people who believe more in "trees", than technology.

Obviously, this all costs money—and requires a tech savvy police department, City Council, and also a tech savvy population—which I don't think we have here in Palo Alto.

There are other issues, but those identified here are enough to answer the poster's request.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Thanks Wayne for the lengthy response on surveillance cameras. Yes nothing can happen without solving the political objections and agreeing to acceptable policies for use of such data. The Boston case and other examples are compelling, though the "price of safety" is a contentious debate.

Regarding downtown street robberies, I still believe it would take a ridiculous investment and amount of maintenance for surveillance cameras to put a dent in the problem. Banks and liquor stores still get robbed in spite of cameras, cameras which are up close and personal, not like the street cameras we'd end up with on some distant light pole.

Maybe the best solution for those wanting such protection is to wear your own surveillance camera.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

> Maybe the best solution for those wanting such protection
> is to wear your own surveillance camera.

This is a real possibility--particularly with Google soon to be marketing its "Glass" product. This particular camera is worn in an clearly visible way--so it's not hard to believe that other products will come along that will be smaller, worn in less obvious ways, and not so easily removed by a "perp".

I would not be surprised to see these sorts of items on the market within three-four years.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 20, 2013 at 10:09 am

Note that without his consent it is illegal in California to record audio of a person robbing you. Video is okay. Has to do with reasonable expectations of privacy.


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