Town's Surveillance Camera Upgrade Will Be Costly, Says Consultant

Feb. 23--Pinole's surveillance camera network is much creakier than officials first thought and will cost between $800,000 and $900,000 to fix, a consultant says.

That estimate nears what the city paid for the system in the 1990s, when it was first installed.

About 40 cameras are deployed around town including in Fernandez Park, where they had a mixed record of success during crimes this past summer.

On June 4, two men fired guns from the park into the adjacent Park View shopping center but hit no one. The cameras didn't pick up any useful footage.

But police obtained "some real good footage" during a July 30 incident that culminated in a double homicide, said police Chief James Rose. He declined to give details of the footage.

Darren Kretchmar, 21, of Pinole and Dave Gregory, 18, of Hercules were shot to death and a third man was injured on a footpath along Pinole Creek at the edge of the park. Daniel Ruiz of San Pablo, who is in his mid-twenties, faces trial on two counts of murder and other charges. Teresita Rodriguez, now 20, is charged with being an accessory after the fact. Both suspects allegedly belong to a criminal gang.

Beefing up the surveillance system was high on the list of suggestions by residents during a town meeting on public safety at the Senior Center in late August. Earlier that month, the city installed an additional camera in the park and allocated $21,500 to evaluate the entire system.

Last month, Jerry Beck and Co., which installed some of the early phases of Pinole's surveillance system, came up with its report, which found 22 "bad" cameras. Beck also studied the fiber-optic cable network, viewing equipment and controls. The consultant recommended replacing some bad fiber strands.

"We knew that we have a system that's getting old and that needs to be evaluated," Rose said. "But we did not know the extent of it."

The Beck report also suggested long-term improvements such as a wireless network that would enable police officers sitting in their vehicles to see what a camera picks up in real time.

John Miner, a former Pinole Police commander and now a consultant to the city, attributed the system's deterioration to a lack of maintenance and funding.

The city spent more than $1 million in redevelopment funds in the 1990s, beginning in 1991, to lay three miles of fiber-optic cable and install about 40 cameras citywide.

Civil libertarians at the time called the system Orwellian. A 1992 Times editorial, "Big Brother in Pinole?" warned of "serious erosion of rights."

Such objections were largely absent during public discussion of the surveillance system since last summer's shooting incidents.

Rose has said he is not sure to what extent the cameras prevent crimes, but said they help identify suspects and gather evidence.

The Council is expected to consider a detailed plan to fix the system in late March.

Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or tlochner@cctimes.com.

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