Public safety cameras around town are one step closer to reality

The intersection of Grand and Oakland Avenues where the city has piloted public safety cameras.

Three years after the city installed its pilot public safety cameras at the intersection of Oakland Avenue and Grand Avenue, city police Chief Jeremy Bowers told the Piedmont City Council on Monday night that such cameras could be in operation at more local intersections by April.

Last February, the council approved a request for proposals for installation of such cameras at Grand Avenue and Wildwood Avenue, Grand Avenue and Rose Avenue, Park Boulevard and Trestle Glen Road, and Moraga Avenue and Highland Avenue. Bowers said the city then started working with consultants Client First on the details of making that happen, including being publicly transparent about the system, given the privacy concerns expressed about such systems.

Bowers, along with Tom Jakobsen of Client First, told the council Monday the city will probably opt for the “leased service”  option for connecting the cameras via fiber cable owned by Comcast and already running under Piedmont streets. That, they said, is the cheapest of the five options reviewed, offers a strong support organization, and allows for expanding the camera system if and when desired — though Jakobsen said moving cameras from one intersection to another could be an expensive proposition.

The cameras themselves will be of two types. Some will be “pan/tilt/zoom” cameras controlled by a joystick and/or a mouse, and the others would be 360-degree multisensor cameras. 

The initial capital cost estimate is $170,000, Bowers said, with the total five-year program cost figured to be $355,600. The expected useful life of the cameras, data storage solutions, battery backup and enclosures is about seven years. 

The public safety cameras are different and distinct from “automatic license plate reader” cameras that focus on vehicle plates, their data collected to help identify vehicles involved in suspected crimes. The public safety cameras capture wider scenes including public sidewalks, parks, street intersections, and other places where people have “no reasonable expectation of privacy,” as stated in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

Bowers said the public safety cameras can work in tandem with the ALPRs, and did just that this past July, when they captured images of vehicles described by witnesses as the ones driven by suspects in two armed robberies in Piedmont. “In both of these instances, we had only vague vehicle descriptions,” Bowers told the council.

Also aiding Piedmont police, videographically speaking, is the city’s registry of privately owned security cameras. Bowers on Monday night encouraged Piedmont residents with security camera systems to sign up on that registry. 

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