'SafeCity Connect' brings 175 new cameras to Oakland to help combat crime

A community program aiming to deter crime in Oakland with the use of security cameras is getting improvements to streamline communication between businesses and police in real time during a crime.

The Oakland Chamber of Commerce has hired retired Oakland Police Department Captain Ersie Joyner as a consultant for its SafeCity Connect program in the Downtown and Uptown areas. The program is a partnership of businesses and property owners to coordinate a network of individually-owned camera systems as part of a suite of public safety strategies to support local businesses and increase public safety. 

Joyner said the operation hub keeps an eye out for crime and is getting more robust.

"In our command center here, we actually have the ability to monitor 175 cameras that are all in public view," Joyner told KTVU at the operation center. "Using this as our hub, we are now going to be able to monitor these 175 cameras, disseminate information in a real-time way to make sure that people are informed, safe and aware."

Joyner hopes this initiative can help community members "take back the City of Oakland," particularly from organized crime that plagues the area.

Business and property owners are already able to voluntarily share their security footage with police. 

Last November, former Mayor Libby Schaaf announced the Shop Safe Oakland Program, which expanded civilian ambassadors on the streets and gave $5,000 grants to businesses to help owners install security cameras. In turn, the businesses would give any footage showing a potential a crime to police.

Joyner said the program worked well but lacked coordination. 

There's now a concerted effort to improve the program by sharing information immediately by emailing or texting police in real time.

"The beauty of this is that this information is being shared holistically with everyone," Joyner said. "At the same time these notifications are happening, it will go to the public, it will go to the third-party security vendors, and it will go to anyone in our network."

The community program is in accordance with Oakland privacy advisory guidelines, according to Joyner. Video is deleted after 30 days, and the cameras do not use facial recognition technology. Anyone who is the victim of a crime is urged to file a police report immediately.

On Tuesday, the Oakland City Council approved $1 million for safety programs in high priority business corridors, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Joyner said he wants some of that funding to go to the SafeCity Connect program. The goal is to increase the network to 300 cameras by the end of the year. The Oakland Chamber also welcomes any private donations to the program.

"We are now looking at things to see how can we make sure people are aware that they're safe when they come Downtown," Joyner said. "That we are getting them into Downtown and out of Downtown safely and more importantly when crimes happen, that we are being responsive to it."