El Cerrito police were pleasantly surprised that a majority of businesses installed twice as many cameras as required. They also use web technology to monitor their business from home. For example, one store required by the ordinance to have 30 cameras installed 70. These "slip and fall" cameras ward off any customers looking to profit by making a false claim against the store. When talking to small businesses, the police department discusses the potential for both crime prevention and liability reduction.
Having had some time with the ordinance in place, Kirkland says overall, he wouldn't change it. Technical specifications are reviewed about every two years to ensure they are up to date. But one thing he has thought about is the amount of time the police department is investing doing initial and annual inspections. The first year the ordinance was in place, Regan estimates he spent three months helping businesses ensure they had camera systems that complied with the new ordinance.
"The more time you spend on the front end preparing your vendors, the people who are doing the installations, and helping merchants understand exactly what you're looking for, the better off you are," he says. "We told all of our vendors that they could not install one camera, one screw, one wire until we looked at the plan with them on site."
There are always going to be variables for every store that can't be seen in a 2D drawing. "Where the sun comes in, in the afternoon is going to impact camera performance," he says, and that's something best understood on site. Typically, Regan and El Cerrito PD detectives do an initial, pre-inspection on site with the vendor. When the vendor starts installing the cameras, they go back and look at a couple of camera views so any issues can be addressed before the vendor leaves the site. About two weeks later, they view video to check the quality.
For businesses that had systems installed flawlessly, that's three visits; however, he says a majority of the systems did not run flawlessly. Regan tells other law enforcement agencies to plan to spend time with the businesses. Because it's a concept the police department came up with, Kirkland still maintains it seems unfair to charge businesses for inspections.
Selling the product
Since the ordinance was passed, Kirkland and Regan have received phone calls from throughout the United States from cities looking to follow in El Cerrito's footsteps. As a result, there's a lot of information on the police department's Web site.
When police departments ask for advice, Kirkland tells them, "Make sure you are prepared to sell the product."
Many cities like El Cerrito have caught a robbery or a murder on video, but the perpetrator is still running free because police can't identify him. Kirkland looks back and says, "We took a very negative situation and became proactive." But, he says, "My heart still goes out to the families that are suffering the loss and pain of losing loved ones. That still bothers me a great deal that those murders occurred while I was police chief." Some of the cases that led to the ordinance being created remain unsolved.
How the new systems are impacting Part I crimes is difficult to determine, Regan says, especially with Part I crimes down throughout California.
"I can tell you when crimes are occurring, we're getting great evidence," Regan says. And the word is out. After a recent robbery, he was approached by the media looking for the surveillance video.
"They said, 'We want to get it out there for you and help you get this solved,' " he says. In El Cerrito, the police department, businesses and the overall community are seeing clearly the benefits a digital video surveillance ordinance has to offer.
Editor's note: The El Cerrito PD Web site can be found at www.el-cerrito.org/police.
Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer specializing in law enforcement topics. She can be reached at email@example.com.