El Cerrito requires businesses have surveillance systems


The City of El Cerrito actually has an ordinance requiring certain businesses to install security cameras inside their premises. That ordinance does not apply to outside cameras, at least not yet. The city passed the law years ago after two high profile robberies that ended up in murders.

"We were the victims of a robbery and my husband was killed in this place in front of me," Silvia Figueroa said.

Figueroa witnessed her husband's murder seven years ago when a robber shot him to death at the Red Onion Restaurant. They had just bought the business the month before.

At the time, there were no security cameras which could have helped police identify the killer. Today, there are four cameras here.

"I feel safer, of course, and not only me," Silvia said. "My customers, the clients feel really safe about it."

Because of this murder and that of a convenience store clerk at a gas station prompted the city of El Cerrito to pass an ordinance in 2007 requiring merchants to install cameras in businesses most likely to become the targets of criminals. They include liquor stores, gun shops, check cashing services, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and shopping centers.

In the convenience store murder there was a security camera that provided a close up of the killer. But Captain Mike Regan says the quality was so bad it was no help to police.

"As it turned out, the date stamp was directly across the suspect's features as they walked out the store," Regan said.

The city's ordinance goes further than just requiring businesses to install cameras. It also covers other aspects of the surveillance systems.

"The location of the cameras, the viewpoint of the cameras, the quality of the cameras themselves," Regan said.

Today, more than a hundred businesses in El Cerrito have high quality digital cameras. The city even gave loans to merchants to help buy the systems on terms too good to pass.

"Every time they successfully passed their yearly inspection, a portion of their loan was forgiven," Regan said.

Residents we spoke with said the Boston bombings took away any doubts they may have had about the presence of cameras.

"But it also is kinda one of those necessary things," El Cerrito resident Ari Freedman said. "If we didn't have cameras, how would we know who did what?"

Police tell me that in the past they've had many calls from other cities wanting to know about their program, calls as far away as Philadelphia. And now, in the aftermath of Boston, they'll probably receive more.

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