surveillance cameras

Jul 242014

The July 23rd Council meeting went extremely long. Mike had gone to speak in favor of a strong privacy policy for surveillance data, and didn’t get to do so until nearly 11. Before that he tweeted from the meeting. My comments are in italics. The Tweets have been organized by subject. Follow him @slbytes.

The only City Council candidates present at the meeting were Mike Katz-Lacabe and Mia Ousley.

San Leandro City Council to discuss Heron Bay wind turbine lawsuit in closed session on Monday 7/21.

Surveillance camera policy is on the agenda for Monday night’s 7/21 San Leandro City Council.

Councilmember Jim Prola is absent from tonight’s San Leandro City Council meeting.

pickardCongratulations Officer Pickard for being recognized as the City of San Leandro employee of the quarter!

Kinkini Banerjee & family accept Proclamation from Mayor Cassidy declaring Aug. 2014 as Indo-American Heritage Month.

Kinkini is one of my best friends and I love her, but I wonder why India West was not invited to receive the proclamation or at least attend the ceremony. India West is the largest Indian-American newspaper in the US, and it’s based in San Leandro!

LINKS shuttle

San Leandro LINKS shuttle: 6.25 mile loop, 23 stops to connect W. San Leandro to downtown BART. Hours: 5:45am-9:45am and 3-7pm

Bike racks added in past year. Avg. 737 riders per day. 191,646 total riders in 2013.

Goals for San Leandro LINKS: shorten route to reduce time, reach Marina Sq./Auto Mall, service to Westgate, Kaiser, 21st Amendment Brewery.

Proposed change to San Leandro LINKs to meet goals: split route into north and south routes to reduce wait and trip times.

Proposed change to San Leandro LINKS will cost: $50k from City, $165k more from business improvement dist. & $130k more from grants/business

Mayoral candidate Diana Souza sounds supportive of San Leandro LINKS. She voted against it on 3/16/09.

Former San Leandro Councilmember Gordon Galvan is Exec Dir of San Leandro Transportation Mngmnt Org, which runs LINKS shuttle.

Mayor Cassidy wants to add San Leandro to the LINKS shuttle name a la “Emery Go Round” since the City will be partially funding it.

Diana Souza had been very critical of the LINKS shuttle until now. Her change of face is interesting. Gordon Galvan, who not only runs the shuttle but is also a lobbyist, was one of main contributors to Cassidy’s campaign.


San Leandro City Council voted 6-0 to impose liens for non-payment of bus. license fees, garbage fees, sidewalk repairs, and code compliance.

Among those with liens imposed by San Leandro for non-payment of business license fees: Diana Souza campaign mgr Charles Gilcrest.

I was at the council meeting last year where the Council voted to place liens and one of the business owners who appeared complained about the cumbersome system for paying business license fees, the immediate fines and lack of communication from the city. Apparently things haven’t changed as there were many liens imposed.

Floresta Gate

Much discussion about a gate for the Floresta Gardens neighborhood.

Karen Williams of Floresta Gardens asking for gate to reduce crime from non-residents. City discourages gates communities.

San Leandro City Council approves gate on Caliente Drive for Floresta Gardens neighborhood 4-2. Gregory and Lee vote no.

Facebook comment: A neighborhood in Fremont was asking for a gate along the Alameda Creek a few years ago. After a few months of curfew enforcement and checks at the location of concern we found most of the trouble actually originated from the HOA family members and guest.

Public Comments

First speaker addresses issue of children arriving in US from Central America.

Second speaker supports San Leandro Marina. Work session Mon. 7/28 on marina and shoreline.

Marijuana Dispensaries

San Leandro selects ICF International to help craft dispensary selection process. Mass. paid $335,449 to ICFI for similar work.

San Leandro Councilmember Diana Souza recuses herself because son works for pot dispensary that will apply for San Leandro dispensary.

Nothing in the government code requires Souza from disqualifying herself from this situation, but she doesn’t want to be in record voting against medical marijuana facilities. Alas, she has been on the record speaking and voting against them before. Souza, however, did not feel she needed to recuse herself on a vote concerning the property belonging to her own campaign manager.

Surveillance Cameras

Next up: vote on 36 cameras to monitor San Leandro City Hall and other city properties.

Mayor Cassidy clarifies that the upcoming vote does not approve a policy or anything to do with public surveillance cameras.

San Leandro Councilmember Benny Lee asks about backup of the data and whether backups are encrypted: Answer from staff: I believe so.

San Leandro City Council candidate Mia Ousley notes deficiency in draft surveillance camera policy and confusion about the agenda item.

San Leandro City Council votes 6-0 to approve $156k contract with Odin Systems for City Hall cameras. Not sure if it was sole source contract [later confirmed it was].

Pittsburg PD purchased cameras from Odin Systems. SLPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli used Pittsburg as example of video surveillance success.

However, San Leandro had greater reduction in crime without cameras than Pittsburg with cameras.

Odin Systems recently “donated” 60-inch monitor to Pittsburg PD, which paid thousands for cameras from them

No bid contract approved by San Leandro City Council Mon. 7/21 includes cameras with microphones for audio surveillance [which is unconstitutional].

Facebook comment from Mia Ousley, who was also at the meeting:

Only 3 people spoke out at last night’s meeting — all against the policy as is. However, in a confusing intro, Mayor Cassidy said the Council was not voting on a potential future plan to increase the number of cameras, which is what was written in the printed or online agenda. He said that information was only in the title and was misleading. However, I don’t see it that way at all, so it’s unclear to me what the Council actually unanimously agreed to — just replacing the current cameras at our Civic Center or a plan to install cameras at other areas in the city in the future. So I decided to address that issue anyway, saying oversight must be by a neutral party, and that decisions should come from the City Council, which would allow thorough vetting by the public.

Mike Katz-Lacabe agreed, and also discussed additional security and privacy issues that were not addressed in the proposed policy.

Darlene Evans was the only other speaker on the topic, saying her bike had been stolen from the library, where there was a camera, but the officers there told her spiders covered the camera and they couldn’t see anything.

May 132014

Video release of California Senate candidate’s shoplifting raises questions about ethics and privacy

Note: This article has been updated since it was first published.


The woman absently browsing through the racks of clothing that afternoon at Neiman Marcus looked haggard. Her dyed hair appeared uncombed and unwashed, her usually perfectly made-up face was bare and she was wearing a less-than-flattering jogging suit. As she shopped, she was encumbered by a large purse, a shopping bag from Nordstrom’s and another from Neiman Marcus. Her movements between the racks seemed random. Once in a while, she’d select a piece of clothing or two and hand them over to a saleswoman to take to the dressing room. Sometimes she would look at her phone. To the casual observer, she looked like a tired housewife trying to kill time. None of the other shoppers that afternoon seemed to have paid her any attention.

Assemblymember Mary Hayashi, however, had caught the eye of the security team at Neiman Marcus. A dress had disappeared the previous week after a woman matching her description tried it on. For an hour, the store’s high definition cameras followed Mary’s every move, zooming in on her face, bags and even the screen of her phone. Meanwhile, loss prevention agents in white t-shirts followed her discreetly on the floor.

leavingIt was one of the loss prevention agents who watched Mary through the slats of her dressing room door, installed backwards for such purpose, and allegedly observed her dropping a pair of leather pants, a leather skirt and a white shirt into one of her shopping bags. The cameras did record Mary later, at the counter, purchasing a gold shirt and a pair of red pants, while returning some items of clothing she retrieved from her Neiman Marcus bag, for which she had a receipt. Mary chatted with the saleswoman, glanced at her phone and just lingered while waiting for her purchase to be rang up and packaged. If she was distracted, it wasn’t by a phone call.

marysupplyWe see* Mary making her way out of Neiman Marcus with her three shopping bags on tow. We see* her being stopped just outside the store, and brought back inside to have her bags searched. She does not dispute that she had not paid for the leather pants, skirt and shirt that the loss prevention agents found inside one of her bags, with a total value of $2445. She pled no contest to shoplifting, an offense which has the intent to steal as one of its key elements (i.e. you cannot shoplift without meaning to). She has, however, consistently claimed she did not intend to shoplift.


Like many other observers of local politics, I was titillated when news broke of Mary Hayashi’s shoplifting arrest. I had supported Mary when she first ran for Assembly, and I was a novice about local politics, but had grown disenchanted by her “pay to play” approach to politics. There was something deliciously ironic about her being caught stealing at a high-priced department store.

As I knew very little about shoplifting, I decided to school myself on the subject before starting to thrown any stones. Fortunately, there are plenty of books, websites, studies and law cases on the topic. I learned, for instance, that “it was Neiman Marcus policy not to stop a suspected shoplifter unless a loss prevention officer actually observes the suspect removing the item in question from the rack and continuous surveillance is maintained,” so that any evidence against Mary Hayashi was likely to be rock solid. But I also learned that shoplifting is a psychological disorder which afflicts as many as 10% of Americans. While a tiny percentage of shoplifters do so for profit, the vast majority do it to fulfill psychological needs, to fill an emptiness inside or get a high from getting away with the theft. About a third of shoplifters report having been diagnosed with depression. Shoplifting can quickly become addictive, specially as the chances of getting caught are low: shoplifters report being caught about once for every 48 times they steal. Treatment, meanwhile, is very difficult, though a drug used to treat alcoholism shows promise.

Before becoming a member of the California Assembly, Mary Hayashi was a mental health advocate for Asian women. She wrote in her book Far from Home how her passion came from her experience with her own sister’s suicide. It seemed likely that Mary’s shoplifting was based on emotional rather than (at least exclusively) economic needs. Her arrest was a perfect opportunity for Mary to confront her own mental health issues, and in doing so, bring attention to a disorder that afflicts many people from all sorts of lives.

Instead, Mary coped out. Though she plead no contest, basically admitting her guilt, she continued making excuses, claiming she was distracted and later insinuating that a benign tumor she was suffering from, might have played a role in her actions. The latter may actually be believable. Studies have shown that damage to some areas of the brain can interfere with decision making processes, including kleptomania. Mary did not press the issue, however, as admitting faulty decision-making abilities can be a problem for a politician who wants to remain viable. Still, her inability or unwillingness to come clean about her mental health issues – issues to which she had previously dedicated her life -, seem contemptible to me.


Mary Hayashi, now, is running for state Senate. She has a very large campaign chest and no scruples. Perhaps that, too, is a consequence of her brain tumor. She has attacked her opponent mercilessly, suggesting that he supports rapists because he voted against an early version of a bill that took away judicial discretion on division of assets after a divorce. She should not be in Sacramento. That is half of the story.

The other half is the issuagente of privacy, surveillance cameras and see-through dressing room doors. The latter matter is, perhaps, the most blatantly obnoxious. Many people are modest and don’t want to be seen naked by others – be they store employees or anyone else walking by. That’s why dressing rooms exists in the first place. While in this case the loss prevention agent actually caught Mary hiding store merchandise, it’s likely that in many cases they observe completely innocent people in their underwear. I think that at the very least consumers should be informed that they can be seen while changing with the doors closed.

zoominThe surveillance issue is also troubling. Mary was in a store and she probably knew that there were cameras. I doubt, however, that most consumers realize just how intrusive these cameras can be. Shoppers are unlikely to be aware that a camera mounted on the other side of the room can zoom on their faces so precisely that someone could read their lips and eavesdrop into private conversations. They are probably not aware that the cameras can also zoom onto the screens of any papers or screens they have with them, potentially recording private information. A shopper who sees a person looking at what they are holding or studying their mouth movements, would probably walk away; cameras do so undetected.

More and more municipalities are putting cameras like these on public spaces, again without notifying citizens of how much information about their every day lives they can record. Surely sometimes – like in this case – they are useful (though it’s telling that none of the actual elements of the crime of shoplifting were recorded), but it is important for the public and lawmakers to also be aware of the negative uses of surveillance technologies.

Mary Hayashi’s arrest did not lead to the conversation on mental illness I wanted. I hope that the release of the video of her shoplifting incident will lead to a public discussion on the needs of surveillance versus privacy.

Full Shoplifting Trip Video

Mary Leaves the Stores and Gets Arrested

Some Stills from the Video:


* An earlier version of this article said that we didn’t see Mary after she left the counter. That’s because I had only watched one of the two surveillance videos provided by the SFPD. The second video shows her exiting the store, being detained and being brought back into the store.  Stills from the surveillance video have also been added.

Sep 292013
Mike Katz-Lacabe

Mike Katz-Lacabe

Today my husband, Mike Katz-Lacabe, was a guest of Brian Copeland on his KGO radio show. They discussed the controversy around raising the flag of the People’s Republic of China in San Leandro as well as the use of license plate cameras.  It’s only 20 minutes, so listen up!

BTW, Brian Copeland said that neither Councilmember Benny Lee, the architect of the flag proposal, nor any other supporters of the flag were willing to go to the show and stand up for their views.

Sep 132013


Data from a multitude of studies makes the case that money is better spent elsewhere..

There is little controversy within the academic and scientific community that surveillance cameras don’t work, either to prevent or solve crimes.   City-wide surveillance cameras have been around since 1994, and in the last two decades there have been numerous studies on their effectiveness.  They show that it’s minimal at best.

The Studies:


Perhaps the most extensively studied camera system is also the biggest: England’s.  Put together, England and Wales have 4.2 million cameras and, not surprisingly, the British government was interested in finding out if they worked.  In 2002, the Home Office conducted a meta-analyses of the studies published until then and found that taken together the studies showed no reduction in crime.   While some of the studies analyzed did show a small reduction in crime, these were mostly on parking lots and cameras had been added in addition to other improvements (such as increased policing and lighting).   In the two cases where cameras alone were added, crime either didn’t change or actually increased.

The Home Office conducted another meta-analyses in 2005 with similar results.  Researchers found that only one out of 13 sites studies showed a statistically significant reduction in crime, and that fear of being victimized did not decrease either.

Cameras have also been of very limited use to solve crimes.  In 2009, British police complained that only about 3% of robberies were solved through cameras – a ratio of about one solved robbery per 1,000 cameras.  While they had many excuses as to why the cameras were not more effective in a country that is blanketed with cameras, the fact remains that Police were able to solve 97% of robbery cases through traditional police work.

San Francisco

San Francisco has recently acknowledged that its surveillance camera system is a waste.  A 2008 study showed that surveillance cameras were effective at reducing property crime within 100-feet of the camera only, beyond 100 feet they were useless.   Surveillance cameras were also effective in displacing violent crime to 250 feet away from the cameras.  The overall rate of violent crime did not decrease.

Los Angeles

A 2008 USC study showed that areas with surveillance cameras had the same reduction in crime rates as areas without them.


Here, researchers did find a statistically significant reduction of crime of 13% overall in target areas where cameras had been placed.  However, most of that reduction was in disorderly, rather than serious crimes, and it was not uniform – in some areas there was no difference or displacement into nearby areas.

Washington DC, Baltimore and Chicago

Researchers at the Urban Institute conducted a study on the effect of surveillance cameras on those cities.  They apparently had written the conclusion before they actually looked at the data, because while they assert that surveillance cameras are a cost-effective crime deterrent, their data does not support that assertion.  They found that:

– In Washington DC, cameras did not have a deterrent effect at all.  They hypothesize that surveillance cameras don’t work at all unless they are monitored live.

– In Chicago, they evaluated two neighborhoods where cameras were installed and were under live monitoring.  The found that crime reduction in one one of the neighborhoods could be attributed to the surveillance cameras, but not in the other.  However, during the period of the study the neighborhood that saw decreases in crime attributed to cameras, also saw significant gentrification as well as police initiatives in surrounding areas.  It’s therefore questionable whether the crime reduction seen in the study can be attributed to the cameras.  Moreover, an ACLU paper shows that only 1% of arrests involved cases caught by the cameras, and there were no prosecutions.

– In Baltimore, researchers found that reduction in crime rates could be attributed to cameras in some neighborhoods but not in others.  This suggests that factors other than the surveillance cameras may be at play here as well.

Other Experiences

According to the Times Picayune: “In seven years, New Orleanscrime camera program has yielded six indictments: three for crimes caught on video and three for bribes and kickbacks a vendor is accused of paying a former city official to sell the cameras to City Hall.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if that would be the same fate of the surveillance camera project in San Leandro.