In wake of recent crimes, Palo Alto police may consider public surveillance | February 7, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 7, 2014

In wake of recent crimes, Palo Alto police may consider public surveillance

Police discuss prevention and awareness with community Tuesday night

by Sue Dremann

The Jan. 23 home-invasion robbery of an elderly Palo Alto couple was the flashpoint for a public meeting that focused on crime prevention and awareness at City Hall Tuesday night, police said.

The gun-point robbery, which alarmed residents and law enforcement, is possibly linked to similar crimes around the Bay Area, Lt. Zach Perron said. Detectives are collaborating with other law-enforcement agencies to identify possible suspects and connections.

But the take-home message for residents Tuesday was to do everything they can to protect themselves, and that includes keeping valuables out of vehicles, carrying few credit cards, not displaying small electronics openly and being aware of their surroundings, police said.

Police also touched on one controversial but looming possibility to further combat crime: positioning surveillance cameras at strategic points throughout the city. But Perron said that the department must weigh seriously any policy that might infringe on privacy.

This idea is not new for Palo Alto, and the use of such systems is growing. Many residents in more burglary-prone neighborhoods have asked the department to add cameras at neighborhood entry points. The City of Oakland is planning to activate in July a $10.9 million city-wide surveillance system, dubbed the Domain Awareness Center, which uses the audio ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system to activate live feeds from security cameras and license-plate readers. The system is opposed by civil-liberties groups.

The time may be coming for such a strategy in Palo Alto, Perron said.

"We're trending to have police-department surveillance in the future," he said.

Though home-invasion robberies are rare in Palo Alto — the last one occurred in 2010 — robberies are up 15 percent. In 2012, there were 26 such crimes. In 2013, the number rose to 30, he said. Most recently, a man on a bicycle tried to snatch two purses on Jan. 29.

Auto burglaries have skyrocketed, increasing 70 percent over last year, and reports of stolen vehicles are up 44 percent, Det. Sgt. James Reifschneider said.

The targets are often rental cars in which visitors leave luggage and laptops in open view. Thieves hone in on restaurant parking lots and shopping malls, such as Stanford and Town & Country Village, where they know people are likely to be away from their vehicles for a period of time.

Palo Alto is a prime area for such crimes because it has many visitors and business people, Reifschneider said.

Police have made some arrests. Last October, officers apprehended a 17-year-old girl who allegedly punched a woman from behind and stole her purse. On Oct. 29, police arrested two 16-year-olds in connection with a violent robbery by three individuals in which a man was knocked to the ground, punched and kicked and threatened with a knife.

But despite the shocking nature of those incidents, few acts of violence occur in the city. The majority of crimes are property crimes, Perron said.

Police presented some good news at the meeting: Residential burglaries dropped 42 percent between 2012 and 2013, in large part because of the police arrests, said Cindy Hendrickson, outgoing Santa Clara County supervising deputy district attorney.

And police on Jan. 16 arrested Vernon Rayshaun Evans-Carmichael, a San Francisco resident who is charged with 27 felonies associated with local auto burglaries dating back to June 2013.

"It's just good, old-fashioned police work," Hendrickson said of the arrest.

Police said they have increased plainclothes officers, foot, bicycle and vehicle patrols throughout the city to combat and deter crime.

"Every crime in this city is a personal affront to us," Perron said.

But residents can do their part by remaining vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity, police said. Tips for protecting home and person can be found on the police websites at and

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by oh my
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Hopefully the Palo Alto Police Dept. will change their priority of chasing down teenage bicyclists running stop signs and focus instead on rising crime in our city. The Police Chief and City Manager seem to mistakenly believe that every crime can be somehow caught on video and therefore propose to gain public support in spending millions of tax dollars on installing surveillance cameras on light and power poles. How inane and simple minded. Perhaps the Police Chief and City Manager's time would be better spent on educating and training senior and middle management police officials on crime prevention techniques, restoring morale within police ranks, and remedying the exodus of our most qualified police officers.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2014 at 9:02 pm

> But the take-home message for residents Tuesday was to do everything they can to protect themselves

Uh, if people are armed and coming into our houses I think that is not a job for people protecting themselves, unless they have weapons and training to use them.

If some kind of surveillance is being thought about to combat this, explain what it is and how it works. For example posting cameras of every person who walks in or drives into the city that is kept for a limited amount of time, or unable to be accessed except by a court warrant in case of a crime would be OK with me. I don't see what kind of privacy invasion that would be ... am I missing something?

Like this comment
Posted by Diff'rent Strokes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm

When we lived in South Palo Alto, we had a neighborhood watch. This included monthly meetings at a different person's home, complete with a potluck dinner.

Now that we live north of Oregon, neighbors apparently feel safe from crime, because absolutely no one we have discussed this with wants anything to do with a neighborhood watch ( claiming it is unneeded, everyone works too late, too busy, too tired, too many kids, &c). About one-third have never even heard of a neighborhood watch and would not want to be involved anyway, because they feel this is the job of the police.

If people do not feel that crime prevention begins at home, and that no one is immune to crime, what can a community do? Apparently in some European countries this is entirely the domain of the government!

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