Categorized | Crime

New Video Surveillance Law Protects Businesses

BY N’JERI EATON//

Silvia Figueroa worked at The Red Onion, a popular El Cerrito burger institution, for over 10 years before buying the restaurant with her husband Alfredo in January 2006. Just four months after they celebrated their first anniversary as owners, Alfredo was gunned down during an armed robbery.

Alfredo’s death was among several violent robberies in El Cerrito that prompted the city council to unanimously adopt the Video Surveillance Ordinance Act in October 2007. Businesses had until October 31 to comply with the law.  However, an influx of last minute orders created a backlog for local security companies.  El Cerrito Police Commander Mike Regan estimates about 40 percent of required businesses are still in the process of getting cameras installed. Those business owners have either a projected installation date or they have been given a 30 or 60-day extension for financial reasons.

Although the ordinance is for the safety of customers and staff, it can still be a financial burden. Regan believes that the new law has hit smaller owner-operated businesses hardest. The city’s redevelopment agency provides matching funds for businesses that need financial assistance. Even businesses that are exempted from the law are opting to install video surveillance equipment. The city offers matching funds for them as well.

The ordinance applies to specific businesses: convenience stores, check cashing businesses, firearms and second-hand dealers, liquor stores, shopping centers, banks and carry-out food restaurants.

A monitor displays the various security camera angles.

The law requires a continuous digital video surveillance system to provide high quality images for police. It also specifies the number and location of cameras dependent on the size of the store. The police department recommends that cameras be placed in entrances and exits, at each register, as well as in loading docks and parking areas.

Since her husband’s death, Figueroa has been extra cautious. She has two video surveillance system installed in her restaurant. She installed the first camera herself before the ordinance passed. Several months later, Figueroa had another system installed by ADT Home and Business Security Systems.

Besides providing a sense of security for her staff and customers, Figueroa believes the cameras have been effective in deterring some crimes. “I don’t have problems with vandalism because they know someone is watching,” she said.

Police have been enforcing the new law one business at a time. Each time a business installs a video surveillance system, a representative from the police department inspects it to make sure it is compliant with the ordinance. One of the key elements they examine is camera placement.  “We want to make sure camera angles are consistent with getting facial shots of people,” said Regan.

Failing to observe the new law will come at a price for owners. If the police department finds a business without a video surveillance system, they will issue a notice to the owner. The owner then has 30 days to provide proof of compliance or they will be issued a citation of up to $500.

Figueroa encourages reluctant owners to think of the El Cerrito Police Department when deciding to install cameras. “They just want everything they can get to prosecute criminals. They just want to help us,” said Figueroa.

Since the passing of the ordinance, the police department has had success in using video surveillance in connection with several ongoing investigations. “Video alone will not get a conviction but it will certainly help,” Regan said.

Silvia Figueroa watches over the customers in her restaurant.

In addition to the video surveillance cameras, Figueroa suggests that owners take extra steps to ensure their safety. She recommends keeping every light on during business hours, especially for employees who use the back exit, and calling the police if they feel threatened. Figueroa cites the help of the local police for getting through the tough times. “They are wonderful people.  They’re giving me all the support I need to keep going,” she said.

During the first year after her husband’s death, Figueroa frequently called the police and asked for a patrol car to survey the area if she felt unsafe. The calls are less frequent now, but she has remained impressed by the police department’s response.  “They always come, they’ve never denied me,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a bother, but it’s not like that. They’re really flexible.”

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