After armed gunmen invaded and robbed an occupied home in the Alpine Hills neighborhood of Portola Valley on Oct. 13 – the second such incident in this neighborhood in six months – a petition is making the rounds to install fixed automated license-plate-reading cameras at key locations to catch traffic into and out of town.
The petition, forwarded to the Almanac by a resident of Portola Valley, had 291 signatures as of Oct. 17 and asks the Town Council to "immediately re-consider" a recent decision not to install the cameras, "given the progressive and violent nature of recent home invasion robberies." It's not clear how many of the signatories are residents of Portola Valley.
Surveillance cameras, sheriff patrols
Town Manager Jeremy Dennis issued a 10-point memo to the public via email on Monday afternoon, Oct. 17, itemizing the steps taken by the town and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which provides police services for the town.
The memo includes contact information for setting up neighborhood watches and a list of all burglaries in town since 2010.
The town is considering a program by which residents can register their own home-video surveillance cameras, and the Sheriff's Office has been patrolling parts of the community known to be hotspots for crime with a team of three detectives and a sergeant.
In both robberies, the robbers were armed with handguns and corralled the residents while the robbery was taking place, according to the Sheriff's Office. Unlike the Oct. 13 incident, in which one person was injured with a cut to the side of his head, the incident in June 2016 did not result in injuries.
The council held a two-hour community forum about the license-plate-reading cameras on Sept. 28 and decided to continue with its wait-and-see approach pending proof of their effectiveness in actually solving crimes.
"Generally speaking, there is a dearth of quantifiable studies that test the effectiveness of (the cameras)," Town Manager Jeremy Dennis said in a staff report ahead of the forum. Moreover, there's a question as to how often law enforcement would actually consult camera data since losses from property crimes in Portola Valley tend not to be high enough to trigger a Sheriff's Office investigation, the report said.
At the forum, speakers from the public were more or less equally divided in favor of and opposed to putting in the cameras.
The petition is not dismissive of the nuances of camera installation. "We request that this issue be given a very high priority for consideration and discussion at the next possible meeting date," the petition says. "While we recognize the limitations of ALPRs, we support their use in conjunction with other crime deterrent methods."