OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Crimes on some East Bay community college campuses are going unsolved, partly because surveillance cameras are broken, blurry, or inoperable, according to a KTVU review of recent police reports.
Hundreds of cameras are supposed to keep watch to prevent or capture potential crimes on Peralta Community College District campuses, but 2 Investigates found many of them are blocked by trees, not pointing the right way, or have a poor connection.
The extensive camera system at the Peralta Police station consists of about 300 cameras spread out among four campuses, and monitored by Alameda County Sheriff's deputies. That includes Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland, College of Alameda, and Berkeley City College in Berkeley.
"We have a camera right outside the welcome center, and we witness things happening right outside," 13-year employee and Laney College alum Cassandra Upshaw said. "I call the sheriff's deputies and the technicians see nothing but leaves because of the camera's position. So we have to choose either between the camera or trees. We shouldn't have to make that choice."
2 Investigates examined crime data finding calls for everything from car break-ins and robberies to violent crimes like assault. Some students and staff said it's no secret that cameras aren't keeping watch, and they even have safety patrol members give them rides in a golf cart to their cars after dark.
"It does scare me because you could be walking up the alleyway and something terrible could happen and there's no evidence," student Hanson Ha said. "I know my boss had his car broken into four or five times, and he parks right in front of where we work."
Despite deputies out every day patrolling campus, they can't be everywhere. Lieutenant Gerald Verbeck with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office is in charge of keeping campus safe, and explained cameras seen at the police station with a red X on the screen means there's a connection issue, the camera is buffering, or it's simply busted.
"The camera system is a layer of security so it would be great to have all of them working," Lt. Verbeck said. "But the best layer is the boots on the ground – having my officers on the campuses walking around because a camera can only do so much."
Records show just in the college parking lots there has been theft. On multiple police reports, KTVU found "lack of camera views," or "limited amount of cameras," and even "inoperable" cameras listed. Deputies said it makes solving the crimes nearly impossible. 2 Investigates looked at 20 random police reports and found nearly a dozen couldn't be solved because cameras weren't working. Instead, students, staff and neighbors paid the price for smashed windows, stolen stereos, or other personal items.
"That part gets frustrating because I would want every crime to be solved," Lt. Verbeck said. "I feel bad… that anybody's a victim of any crime."
Financial records show the Peralta Board of Trustees approved more than $50,000 in March which covered outstanding bills for repairs and upgrades, however, it wasn't enough to fix every camera. The contract has since expired, documents show.
For safety reasons the college district would not say how many of the cameras are down, but a district spokesperson told 2 Investigates that right now, the number of malfunctioning cameras are "not enough to be concerned about."
This comes as the latest security problem for Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland following the fire department's inspections uncovering code violations and inefficient fire systems. The failing inspections forced both campuses to be put on ‘fire watch' and spend thousands of dollars every week on guards – sometimes employing students – to check for fires. The district said it hopes to be off of ‘fire watch' later this month.
As for the surveillance cameras, there is no indication when or if all the broken or blocked cameras will be addressed. A meeting scheduled Wednesday is supposed to discuss a potential new contract with the company that had made installation and camera repairs in the past. Before any money is spent, however, it will have to be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval. Chancellor Frances White told KTVU two months ago that the cameras are one of the items on a long list of things that need to be addressed.
If you have any information related to this investigation, email KTVU2Investigates@foxtv.com.
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