News Briefs


Smile, Santa Rosa! You’re on camera. Surviellance in the North Bay.

For future reference, don’t pick your nose in downtown Santa Rosa—even if no one else is in sight. Buoyed by the success of last year’s undercover sting operation using mobile cameras, the Santa Rosa Police Department recently received the go-ahead to install eight permanent cameras in and around Old Courthouse Square. “The areas that we will be videotaping are public areas,” says Santa Rosa Police captain Tom Schwedhelm. “The Supreme Court has ruled that there is no expectation of privacy in a public area.”

However, access to the live camera feed (seen on monitors in dispatching) and to the resulting tapes will be limited. “We’re very sensitive to this issue,” Schwedhelm responds when asked about the “Big Brother” aspect of the project. “We don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy, but there are some police concerns in the downtown area. We want to make it a safer place, and this will enhance our ability to do that.” He adds, “I firmly believe this is a very efficient use of our tax dollars.” The project’s total budget is $150,000; the eight cameras are expected to cost $3,000 to $7,000 each for a total of no more than $56,000. They should be installed by the end of this year.

Santa Rosa already has two cameras in its transit mall and several in its parking garages. The Petaluma Downtown Association is installing eight cameras, using a system with a capacity for 12. The goal, says association executive director Maire McCusker, is to prevent vandalism and protect property. Installation is planned for November.

A number of schools throughout the North Bay use surveillance cameras; many operate only after school or on weekends, to prevent or record acts of vandalism. Other campuses use them during school hours as well, but only review the tapes after an incident. A spokeswoman for the city and county of Napa and the city of American Canyon said those municipalities do not use surveillance cameras in public locations. Neither does the county of Marin. The city of San Rafael has live cameras in some high-traffic intersections, but not in predominantly pedestrian public areas.

One community that has embraced surveillance cameras in a big way is Ripon, near Modesto. This city of approximately 14,500 people and 28 police officers spent more than $500,000 in 2005 for an extensive mesh network with 54 cameras. “It’s been a pretty good deterrent for us,” says Lt. Ed Ormonde. “People pretty much know that there’s going to be a camera nearby if they’re committing a crime.”

Sonoma County Library