El Cerrito Considering CCTV Requirement for Retailers

Security requirement to be proposed; follows violent robberies in California town


EL CERRITO -- Police in El Cerrito are working to get another tool to protect businesses.

With several deadly robberies in the area in recent months -- most notably the takeover-style robbery that killed a restaurant owner in the spring -- the idea is gaining steam to require certain types of businesses in El Cerrito to install video cameras that would be accessible to police.

To that end, the city staff will work during the next month to develop a draft ordinance for consideration by the City Council.

"We have a responsibility to assist businesses," police Chief Scott Kirkland told the council this week. "We have to start taking advantage of the technology. If we have additional evidence, we'll be more successful."

Kirkland outlined for the council how a video surveillance program could help solve and deter crimes in El Cerrito.

Some of the businesses that would fall under the ordinance include banks, fast-food restaurants, check-cashing businesses, gas station convenience stores, liquor stores, firearms dealers and secondhand dealers such as pawn shops. The ordinance would include some exemptions, such as for businesses that already have high-quality video surveillance systems.

Council members on Monday had logistical questions about the proposal, but all appeared to be in favor of moving forward.

"I think this is a good example of how our police force works," Councilman Bill Jones said. "I'm really encouraged and thank you for taking the time to research this. Our police department deserves the type of technology to do the job."

Councilman Jan Bridges raised concerns about privacy and civil rights, but Kirkland said those shouldn't be factors under this ordinance.

"We're not asking to be anyone's big brother," he said. "We're talking about cameras in public places. We're not here to monitor everybody's activities."

Alexander Abbe, assistant city attorney, added that the city is trying not to "infringe on anybody's expectation of privacy."

Signs would alert the public of the surveillance, Kirkland said. Several businesses in the area already have surveillance systems in place; many times, Kirkland said, a crime or a suspect is captured by such cameras, but the quality is so poor that the tape is useless to police.

To help alleviate concerns, the city has sent out pamphlets about the proposed ordinance to more than 500 businesses in the area and held three community meetings.

If adopted, the ordinance would allow city officials to set guidelines for the type of cameras and where they are placed, as well as allow for regular inspections of the equipment to make sure it is functioning correctly. The ordinance likely would require businesses to comply within a year of its enactment.

The council also discussed offering grants or low-interest loans to small businesses to help offset the cost of installing surveillance systems. The council asked the city staff to bring a proposal for a financial-assistance program for small businesses by the Sept. 17 meeting. The council will consider the draft ordinance at that meeting.