Oakland Needs More Video in Public

On Monday, two incidents came up that involved the same subject. The one was international and macro, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the other was micro,my new case of a client robbed at gunpoint in Oakland’s Glenview district. Video surveillance, or lack thereof, link the two.
Authorities identified the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing likely within 48 hours and no more than in three days. I don’t know the exact video source that led to the images but assume it came from multiple sources, stationary cameras in buildings, cameras facing the street from businesses and certainly private video at or near the finish line. 
Contrast the most galvanizing, sensational, international crime incident in the last decade with my client’s case. He had dinner at the very nice Marzano in Glenview, made a right up Park Boulevard and then a quick right walking to his
car on Wellington at about 9:00 p.m. April 10.
He sensed danger. Sure enough, two men in hoodies blocked his way and one brandished a handgun. They took his wallet with all his credit cards, cell phone, briefcase, etc. For whatever reason they did not demand his wedding ring. Perhaps the whole incident took a minute or two. The victim, an attorney, quickly grasped the situation and gave up his stuff. Maybe it saved his life.
The Glenview District exudes charm and boasts about seven restaurants in a two block area. It has become a destination for restaurants and foodies in Oakland, now known nationwide for it’s restaurant scene. (Oakland is a city of 400,000 people and characterized by its dozen or so funky commercial districts.)  Oakland is beset by crime. Crime defines Oakland. You can’t have two or more Oaklanders coming together without them swapping stories of crime victimization. “Oh yah, lived here for 20 years and three stolen cars, a stolen motorcycle and a burglary? How about you? But I love the weather and the restaurants and being close to San Francisco.” 
The robbers hit the Glenview victim very close to the Blackberry Bistro, which was closed for the night at the time. Glenview also has many single homes and apartments right next to where the robbery occurred. But no video cameras captured the incident because there weren’t even any City cameras or business video cameras or likely residential cameras in the area.

The lack of video cameras in this upscale area strikes me as odd because in 2012 Oakland had 2,159 robberies at gunpoint. That’s a staggering amount, almost six robberies at gunpoint a day. And that’s only the reported amount, so likely double it for a more accurate figure. If Oakland can’t keep its commercial districts safe it’s doomed. I live in Oakland so I  know of which I speak.


Video may or may not deter crimes but it is a hell of a weapon for catching criminals. Just ask Boston and the FBI. Video in Boston led to the identification which resulted in the capture. Not only that, but authorities found more weapons and bombs the brothers had and likely thwarted further attacks and casualties.

Video and cameras are like using DNA in criminal cases. It’s science. It’s fact. It can not only rule people “in” but has the power to exonerate. You can refer back to it again and again and get it right. Apparently, the City spends about $35,000 on cameras down in Frutivale and some other neighborhoods off International but that’s not enough. I bet you could put cameras in every major commercial district for about $500,000, or the annual cost of three full-time officers with benefits. And, it’s a fixed cost.

Oakland could catch more criminals with a good public camera system. Why do you think banks and casinos have such good video systems? It’s time for people to get on board with cameras in public. YOU ARE IN PUBLIC AND HAVE NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY. It’s an evolution. Remember when some were freaked because the internet would actually give you door-to-door directions to someone’s house? And then, oh my God, Google started actually taking pictures and images of people’s streets and yards. We have all adjusted to this. If you are in your house you deserve and get your privacy.

Many residents have already gone high-tech in neighborhoods because they know police can’t give timely responses. One resident who installs the cameras for his street called it “Neighborhood Watch 3.0.” Read the Chronicle article on it.

When I started in the business I used to investigate cases and places such as gas stations and convenience stores used to have crappy VCRs and cameras and would only keep video for a week.
In the Glenview robbery case, I have been to the stores and gas stations where people used the victim’s credit cards after the robbery. The video is pretty good and, because it’s digital, they can store it for at least 30 days and up to 90 days. Plus, they can hop on the system and in less than three minutes get to the exact time when an incident occurred. 
Boston was horrific. But the Glenview robbery could have ended in almost as many deaths. What if the gunman panicked and shot the victim and then had to shoot his way out to escape. I hate to say it but the odds of a prosecution in this Glenview matter are slim. It’s tough to make a positive ID of guys in hoodies when you are looking at a gun. But what if cameras had footage of them in the area earlier or had captured a license plate?In fact, someone had reported seeing a suspicious vehicle in the area at about the time of the robbery. Most criminals are not smart enough to use fake plates or a stolen car.

And if you really know your local history, robberies in Glenview are old-hat as the neighborhood gives easy and close get-away routes 30 seconds away in either direction to highways 13 and 580. Before it was Rumbo Al Sur, across from where my client was robbed, it was The Cantina. If I am not mistaken there was a hold-up and shooting at the Cantina in the early 90s that left one or two workers dead.

Oakland and other places need to think long and hard about installing more public video cameras. Burglar alarms are kind of ridiculous. Check with any alarm and security company and you will find that video systems are the future. At least video gives you a chance of catching someone.