Duveneck residents call for surveillance cameras

After spate of burglaries, neighborhood wants license-plate readers to combat burglaries, street robberies

An armed street robbery on Feb. 15 and a rash of residential burglaries last week in Palo Alto has some residents calling for the city to install surveillance cameras and license-plate readers, and others ramping up efforts to communicate with their neighbors.

Duveneck residents, who live near Embarcadero Road and U.S. Highway 101, asked Palo Alto police to consider adding cameras or plate readers at the neighborhood's three access points after a man walking his dog was held up at gunpoint. But Patrol Capt. Ron Watson told the residents in an email that he did not think it would be possible to blanket the area with cameras.

"While I understand the concern for your neighborhood, it ... wouldn't do anything if any future crime happened to occur in an area adjacent to your neighborhood," he wrote.

In addition, he said, the department proposed using grant money a few years ago to purchase a license-plate reader to look for stolen vehicles and other criminal activity, but the City Council felt the idea leaned too far toward "Big Brother."

"Having said that, there are any number of citizens who have placed video cameras around their home and captured images of crimes, which can most definitely be useful in some circumstances," Watson said.

Duveneck residents had also asked for the Public Works department to trim trees and improve lighting. Watson said the department is looking into those improvements.

Joel Henner, a neighborhood leader who has worked on emergency preparation and reconstituting some form of neighborhood watch, said crews have been trimming the shrubs and trees this week, and it has made a difference. He has also noticed increased police patrols, he said.

But he was skeptical that a city-sponsored camera-surveillance setup would become a reality. Neighbors are divided on that concept, he said.

"I think on the face of it, that's a good idea. I wouldn't mind seeing it. But it's costly. And for everyone who thinks it's a good idea, there is someone who is opposed to it," he said.

Karen White, Duveneck/St. Francis Neighborhood Association president, said she thinks the cameras could be used on a temporary basis.

Other Palo Alto residents have added security alarms and cameras to their homes.

Alan Yu installed an alarm system after his Oregon Avenue residence was burglarized four or five years ago. A few days after the break-in, perpetrators returned and tried to kick in a door, breaking a glass window. Since installing the alarms and posting a sign outside, he has not had further trouble, he said.

But he doesn't disapprove of adding street-surveillance equipment.

"There has to be some sacrifice of the convenience/privacy issues over having more safety," he said.

"I never used to fear for my safety until I saw that robbery report. My house is a block away from 101. I feel very open and exposed. I have rarely ever seen Oregon Avenue patrolled, but I realize that's a very expensive proposition. That's why cameras and license-plate readers are a good option. If something does happen, then you have a record," he said. "It's a one-point presence with an officer. With cameras and readers, there are multiple points."

Henner said two bicycles were stolen from his back yard last year. He carries a light and rape alarm when he walks his dog at night. But communication is the key to making the neighborhood inhospitable to thieves, he said. To that end, he has reached out to the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood through email to form watch groups. At first he hesitated, he said, fearing his neighbors might think him crazy.

"A lot of people don't know me," he said.

But he heard back from many people.

"No one has come back and said, 'Mind your own business,'" he said. Henner said protection is about "creating a place where everyone knows each other" -- and not for the short term.

"We have to take responsibility to keep this place safe. This place should be inhospitable to crooks. What's really important is what we are doing six months from now and two years from now," he said.

Crescent Park resident Amy Wardwell Kacher said residents are using email to increase neighborhood awareness.

"Our neighborhood Yahoo group goes crazy tracking the door-to-door salespeople: 'Girl in her 20s wearing a hoodie and carrying a clipboard just came to my door, had no permit' -- this type of thing. On the Yahoo group, people are discussing possible cameras and installing motion-sensor flood lights," she said.

Parents at schools are discussing the issue when they pick up their children and are talking about how they now lock their back and side doors when they are home, she said.

Kacher said a few people have changed to better quality dead bolts, put alarm signs in their yards, and put 3M coating on some windows, which "makes it virtually impossible to break through."

Police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said residents should not hesitate to call 911 when they see a suspicious person or suspicious circumstance. Residents who feel uncomfortable calling 911 for a non-emergency can program their phones and speed dial with the non-emergency dispatch-center number, 650-329-2413, he said.

Watson said the department is stepping up patrols and is using two downtown officers to patrol neighborhoods in addition to paying limited overtime for other officers to keep an eye on hotspots. Detectives are also working areas, he said.

The department is using all of the resources at its disposal to tamp down on the crime but overall staffing levels are low. There are 14 sworn-officer vacancies in the department, in part due to the recent high number of retirees.

"At any given time we have five to six vacancies," he said, adding that other factors, such as injuries account for the numbers. "This is exceptionally high. Not since 2006-2007 have we had such a high number, when it was down by 15," he said.

Residents must realize they play a critical role in catching the bad guys, since a handful of officers must patrol 26 square miles and the reality is they will rarely catch burglars red-handed while patrolling, Perron said.

"I've been here for 14 years, and I'm going to be here for 30 years, and I will probably never witness a burglar breaking in," he said.

He noted that neighborhood awareness is highly effective. Palo Alto police arrested three people Monday, Feb. 27, after a resident reported suspicious behavior on Waverley Street near Oregon Expressway.

"It's a perfect example of how that's supposed to work," he said.

Related material:

Tips for preventing a burglary or robbery


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 2, 2012 at 9:42 am

It’s about time that this new technology at least be given a chance to help the police.

Automatic number plate recognition:
Web Link
There are a few different kinds of LPRs (License Plate Readers) these days—

Fixed location:
Web Link

Mobile/Vehicle Mounted:
Web Link

Web Link

This technology is not a panacea, but if it were intelligently deployed, it is very possible that cars that the police should be on the look out for will be more easily spotted. The payoff in crime reduction is that likelihood that some of these cars are being used in residential robberies.

The cost of the vehicle-mounted units is marginal. The cost of the fixed-mounted units is also very low, but there is some software that needs to be acquired.

It can not hurt to give this hardware/software augmentation to the police for a look-see.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2012 at 10:48 am

It is very dangerous in the long term for citizens to start signing away their rights to the government in exchange for security. Be VERY careful here.

Like this comment
Posted by bill g
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 2, 2012 at 10:52 am

Mr. Martin has raised a couple of good points. But the actions already taken by neighbors - motion detectors that activate lights, 3M coating on windows, alarms, etc., are probably the most effective way of deterring break-ins.

As the police have pointed out there are not enough officers to patrol the City's 26 square miles and >200 miles of roads effectively. Their best tools are residents who are alert and who will report suspicious incidents as Lt. Perron said.

Like this comment
Posted by Wilson
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

Security trumps rights. I would submit that if you don't feel safe in your own neighborhood, then you are deprived of some of your most basic rights and privileges as a free citizen.

Like this comment
Posted by Mary G
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2012 at 11:07 am

Please do not imply that ALL Duveneck area residents are asking for signs, cameras, etc. Yes, the street lighting is not good, but I do not want to live in what would become akin to a gated, guarded community, and neither do many of my neighbors. And yes, I do live quite near the spot where the armed robbery took place.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

Perhaps residents out for a stroll should start carrying bear spray. It worked well as a deterrent to a robber for a pharmacist in Spokane.

I would suggest guns or tazers, but this is Palo Alto and we tend to err on the side of keeping the perpetrators healthy.

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm

"Security trumps rights."

That is what the Russian people thought when they gave so much power to Stalin. Think VERY carefully there.

Like this comment
Posted by ridiculous headline!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Please stop such ridiculous headlines!
Talk about hyperbole.
I have heard nothing of people here clamoring for surveillance cameras.
This is not a dangerous area.
People walk and bike around hear ALL the time.
Of course, nighttime in winter is not ideal anywhere - there is the chance of a random robbery, not acceptable, such crimes arise periodically in lots of places including Palo Alto's glamorous downtown.
Palo Alto, overall, is perceived as a prosperous, easy-pickings place and the idea that this neighborhood is like Oakland or the housing projects in San Francisco and needs police monitoring surveillance camera footage is ridiculous!

Like this comment
Posted by camera
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm

problem with cameras, is police will say it's you on the camera when it is clearly not you. cameras don't prove anything. it's who's interpreting the camera is where ''rights'' can be violated. one persons ''security'' is anothers loss of freedom.

Like this comment
Posted by Why?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Palo Alto turning into 1984 will not stop it from becoming Rosewood.

Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I wouldn't want to live in a nightmarish society in which all our movements are recorded by surveillance cameras. There are other neighborhoods targeted by criminals, so this would just divert them to other areas in Palo Alto. There's magic bullet capable of decreasing crime and it's impossible to compeltely eliminate it. Palo Alto will always be a target just like any other affluent community. A combination of sophisticated burglar alarms, guard dogs, pepper spray, neighborhood patrols and not walking your dog alone on a dark winter night should significantly decrease the number of home burglaries and street robberies.

Like this comment
Posted by John Furrier
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 6:46 am

Technology discussed in this article is very inexpensive and doable. I think that it's a slippery slope for gov't to do this. However, private groups could and can fund this kind of effort. They can deploy the cameras on select private property.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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