Calif. Town May Require Video Surveillance for All Stores

A plan by El Cerrito's police chief to require just about every business in the city to install a digital video surveillance system to deter crime is getting a warm response from business and political leaders.

Before he asks the City Council to turn his proposal into law later this summer, Police Chief Scott Kirkland plans to hold three community forums this month to get feedback.

Kirkland began toying with the idea of camera surveillance in 2005, but after an owner of the Red Onion restaurant on San Pablo Avenue was murdered during a robbery April 24, he decided to make it happen.

Kirkland wants to develop a list of digital cameras, lenses and media storage for business owners to install. Older, tape-based systems are not useful in identifying criminals, Kirkland said in a written statement.

City spokeswoman Suzanne Iarla said information on camera prices and types will be available at the forums.

Kirkland wants the cameras installed in all retail and wholesale businesses that require a use permit, including liquor stores, gun shops, pawnshops, check-cashing outlets and fast-food restaurants. Not all businesses require a use permit.

Sewall Glinternick, manager of El Cerrito's Chamber of Commerce, said surveillance cameras are a hot topic among the group's 250 members.

"I'm not prepared to tell if this plan is worth (its) salt yet, but I sure as heck am going to listen to it," Glinternick said. "All we know is we had some business people killed in a botched robbery in April, and there are serious concerns in the business community about that killing, especially in a community like this with a high murder rate.

"When a businessman hears another businessman gets killed, he starts wondering how safe he is. I don't know any business that won't be interested, assuming this project is doable."

Glinternick said he is glad the chief is thinking of ways to catch and deter criminals.

Stores would be required to install one camera per cash register and one at each entrance or exit, loading dock, parking lot or other "vulnerable" areas such as an employee break room. Failure to comply could result in fines or revocation of business permits.

City Councilwoman Janet Abelson said she has not heard from any of her constituents about the plan and just learned about it a few days ago from the city manager.

"I think that there is a definite problem with crime in our area," Abelson said. "I'm really excited to see that the chief is looking for ways to solve the problem, and he's taking advantage of technology to do that."

Abelson said she thinks the cameras will not only help police catch criminals after a crime is committed, but also make criminals think twice.

"A criminal might say, 'Oh, this is going to be too hard, I'm not going to do it,' and that's what we want," Abelson said. "We don't want them doing it to begin with."