Last May, Oakland police arrested a man allegedly involved in a string of burglaries in Oakland, Piedmont, Orinda, Berkeley and Kensington. According to police, vanloads of property were recovered, including television sets, computers, tools and jewelry.
Police were able to catch the alleged thief because they had clear video footage of him taken from a resident’s personal outdoor surveillance system.
“The Valley View suspect is on camera walking — I have him driving by, parking, getting out of his car and putting a T-shirt on, and he tries to take the camera,” said Oakland Police Officer Trent Thompson during an August meeting with the Montclair Safety and Improvement Council. “It was the best footage I’ve seen.”
Residents' security cameras have police solve a number of crimes, so much so that the Montclair Safety and Improvement Council in conjunction with the Oakland Police Department is launching a pilot surveillance camera program in Montclair.
“The goal is to get the message out that we are not victims of crime just because we live in the hills,” says Carolyn Winters, the steering committee chair of the Montclair Safety and Improvement Council. “To get the message out to criminals that we’re not messing around. We’re the eyes and ears on the street.”
As police resources in Oakland grow increasingly scarce, several communities are looking at how they can assist in bolstering their own safety and security. Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who represents the Montclair district, agreed that residents' personal surveillance cameras really help.
“I have been working to promote residents buying cameras all over the city,” Schaaf said. “We really support the use of a camera as a tool to prevent crimes and solve crimes.”
Like the business district, Montclair Village has also been troubled by an increase in robberies and burglaries over the last year, which is why the community started looking into this pilot surveillance camera program.
“It became relevant we had to do something within our own homes,” Winters said. “This was a rollout effort to arm our community with cameras.”
Winters explains that "Big Brother"-types of cameras on street corners don’t really help police catch criminals. Rather, in order for video footage to be useful, it must show a criminal in the act.
“You actually have to catch them on your property,” said Winters. That’s why personal home cameras are significantly more helpful, she said.
Personal surveillance systems run anywhere from $150 to $500 and the number of added components you buy, such as multiple cameras and infrared sensors. The Montclair Safety and Improvement Council is trying to get as many Montclair residents as possible to sign up to buy a system with the company Logitech, so they can get a bulk discount.
Once installed, said Winters, the Logitech cameras send an alert to your cell phone if there is movement in your yard. The cameras then store this information, which can be monitored remotely and uploaded to a computer or into a computing cloud that stores all residents’ information.
With these surveillance cameras, Winters said you can set up the parameters and radius of the area you want to record. “I made my zone closer to my house,” said Winters. “The only motion that is recorded is if someone has crossed that barrier.”
The Montclair Safety and Improvement Council’s goal is to launch the program in October. A couple of dozen people have so far signed up for cameras, but Winters said she’d like to get at least 200 people in the program.
Schaaf said she backs this plan 100 percent. “The more Oaklanders that install a camera will send a unified message that we will not tolerate crime in our neighborhoods,” she said.
To learn more about residential surveillance cameras and to download Libby Schaaf’s “Introduction to Home Security Cameras” brochure, click here.