San Jose Bomb Storage Lacks Video Surveillance

The site where the San Jose Police Department stores its explosives lacks security cameras that can be monitored from police headquarters, and the committee that doles out homeland security money in Santa Clara County has twice passed over a $20,000 funding request to buy them.

The police department has given the cameras a low priority in its applications for homeland security dollars, arguing that other needs trumped a security upgrade at the explosives bunker. Lt. Gary Kirby, who wrote the funding application, said in an interview that he was unsure if he would push harder for the surveillance cameras after this month's transit bombings in London.

It is legal and not uncommon for such bunkers to lack video cameras, law enforcement experts say. But in the wake of the London bombings and last year's theft of 200 pounds of military explosives from a poorly protected bunker in San Mateo County, some say San Jose should take stronger measures to protect the weapons it stores.

"They've got to make that a high priority," said Conrad Grayson, commander of the San Diego County bomb squad, who is fighting for funding to buy cameras to watch over explosives which his department stores.

San Jose police say the department's bunker is secure and complies with federal regulations, which require only that the facility be locked and located away from residential areas.

In his request for the funding, Kirby wrote that "currently, no viewable camera system is in place," and in an interview, wouldn't say whether there were any cameras at all. Kirby argued in the same document that "the security camera system requested will aid in the prevention and/or detection of explosive ordnance becoming available to terrorists through unobserved entry."

The facility -- at a secret location and one of only two in the county -- houses explosives for the San Jose Police Department and local divisions of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and also explosives captured as evidence for smaller law enforcement agencies throughout the county. Kirby declined to name what was kept in the bunker, but San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley said that San Jose police keep a small stock of C-4 plastic explosives on hand for training purposes.

Last summer, thieves made off with 200 pounds of explosives from a poorly protected munitions depot in San Mateo County, which had neither video cameras nor a working alarm. In the wake of that highly publicized theft, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, and other officials held a rare field hearing in the county, chiding law enforcement officials for the lax security at the storage depot. Lantos said Thursday he was unhappy that the department's request had been ignored for so long.

Lantos and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., are preparing to reintroduce a bill that would require law enforcement agencies nationwide to beef up security at munitions depots by installing either alarms or video surveillance systems.

The department first requested funds in late 2003 and then again this spring, seeking $19,675 to install a security camera system with remote viewing capability so that San Jose police could monitor activity at the site from their headquarters.

Celeste Cook, director of emergency services in Santa Clara County, said the panel's decision reflected the low priority San Jose police and other departments in the county placed on the cameras. The application was designated tier two -- of three -- by the County Police Chiefs Association.

Requests that fall outside the first tier, Cook said, are usually funded only if a department draws particular attention to it. But Kirby said that his goal at the meeting was to secure $233,650 to purchase an upgraded infrared tracking device for the police helicopter. Cook said that Kirby did not argue for the camera request.

"It was much more important to him that he get the helicopter request," she said.