One way to combat crime | February 8, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - February 8, 2013

One way to combat crime

Residents hope surveillance cameras will deter home burglaries

by Pierre Bienaimé

With burglaries on the uptick throughout Palo Alto in 2012, Crescent Park stands out among the most targeted neighborhoods. In the past year, burglars struck 26 times, plus another 30 in nearby Duveneck/St. Francis, according to Palo Alto police.

Palo Alto Detective Sgt. Brian Philip attributes this to "the proximity to ingress and egress points. It's easy to get in and out of Crescent Park, onto the highway and out of town."

Some Crescent Park residents are taking initiative to combat burglary — and deter criminals from trying their hand in the first place — with private surveillance systems. Though expensive — beginning at about $1,000 — cameras often provide footage instrumental for Palo Alto police to make an arrest.

"They provide us with an unbelievable amount of intelligence," Philip said. "One of the things we use them the most for is suspect and vehicle descriptions, which not only go out to our patrol staff, but to surrounding agencies and CHP."

In Palo Alto police team up with what they call "business partners" and "community partners" to leverage the resources already in place.

Even if the trail is no longer hot, in many cases footage helps police narrow down a list of suspects as well as a timeframe for the crime.

"Stanford Shopping Center is a perfect example," Philip said. "We work directly with them to get their camera systems up and running," as they did in response to a rash of auto burglaries. "One of the problems that we've seen extensively is that people will have the camera systems installed but not a true understanding of how to work them and retrieve data."

In residential areas, surveillance is largely a matter of personal choice for citizens.

Crescent Park resident Ray Su installed a surveillance camera in his home after an incident back in October 2011. A woman tried to enter his backyard and after confronting her, she left. Two days later as Su watched the 49ers game, the same woman showed up at his house and called the police saying that a man (Su) was in her house. The woman turned out to be mentally ill and a few months later, Su decided to get a surveillance camera to keep an eye out for other suspicious


Su said the surveillance camera can help prevent crimes depending on how "brazen or stupid the thief is." A few days after the iPhone 5 launched, two packages were taken from his doorsteps — all of which was caught on tape. Even though Su never caught the package thieves, he still believes in the importance of keeping watch.

"The camera can help analyzing what is going on in the neighborhood should something happen. It's like an extra set of eyes for the police," Su said.

About a year later, Su saw a car drive slowly and make a U-turn around Newell Road and Kings Lane and then stop in front of his driveway for almost a minute. Then he continued to drive and make another U-turn on Newell and Hamilton where he parked again for another minute or so before driving away towards East Palo Alto. Su notified the police for their record.

"People worry about 'big brother' watching, but I say if you ain't doing anything illegal, why would you care?" Su said.

Luc R. (not his real name) is an avid implementer of private surveillance, going so far as to call it a hobby. At his home on Edgewood Drive, seven cameras cover the front and back yards, as well as the driveway connecting the two — although he acknowledges that anything over three is "just for my own amusement and hobby."

Last year one camera captured an image that helped identify a suspect, who was later arrested, in a street-side robbery.

"You don't have to be an avionics engineer to install (them). Most computer people who can deal with routers, modems and Microsoft can easily program the cameras," Luc said.

The Crescent Park Neighborhood Association is host to much dialogue regarding surveillance systems and expertise. On an email correspondence members share which brands and services have worked for them, as well as tips on legal matters. It's only lawful, for instance, to install cameras on private property and point them onto public property.

David, a management consultant living on Hamilton Avenue, belongs to the association and has his own set of cameras watching over his home. Still, he doesn't partake in the group's email correspondence about it.

"I'm very willing to help anybody who asks, but I don't particularly want to publicize the fact that I've gone through the trouble of putting this stuff in," David said.

"The observation I would make is that the ones who have been resident here 20, 30, 40 years tend to accept what's going on as part of the normal cycle of things, and don't get so excited about it. Those who are newer here tend to get a little bit freaked out."

Eswar Subramanian has no interest in installing cameras of his own, even though his neighbors were the victim of burglary three months ago: "I don't think it would serve any purpose at all. All they'll see is a hooded guy."

Rather, the Fife Street resident believes that cameras installed in coordination are the key to tackling burglary and theft. "If you put cameras on street corners, they'd actually be able to see license plates," Subramanian said.

Across the street, Clarence Nicholas recalls the days he first moved into the neighborhood, more than 60 years ago: "I used to have the milkman come in and help himself, put my milk in the refrigerator and be on his way."

Nicholas and other Crescent Park residents have the option of residential surveillance in their hands alone. "Based on the conversations I've had with residents and such, people are generally much more cognizant of the fact that they need to take proactive measures to protect their property," Philip said.

Editorial Intern Lisa Kellman contributed to this story.


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'People worry about "big brother" watching, but I say if you ain't doing anything illegal, why would you care?'

— Ray Su, Crescent park resident


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