Okay Everyone, Time For Surveillance Cameras

Montclarions have been contemplating measures to help deter potential burglars and catch perps for a while.  Under the auspices of the Montclair Safety and Improvement Council (MSIC), neighbors recently decided that surveillance cameras might do the trick.  And ABC7 News (KGO) ventured into the hills to ask about our plans.

It’s simple:  purchase several surveillance cameras and install them around your property.

With many home invasions lately, why not try something?  After all, Oakland police are focused on their downtown efforts and generally drive up here for in-progress, life-and-limb crimes.  With under 650 cops for the whole city, they aren’t able to patrol in the hills or visit homes that have been hit.

On Saturday morning, there’s an opportunity to figure out how to install and use these specialized cameras.  The Montclair SIC group has organized a meet-up at Montclair Elementary School (map), starting at 10am.  Right in the parking lot,  Logitech camera reps and Oakland police are scheduled to discuss how this program can work for Montclair.

Whether you are ready to install cameras or not, all curiosity seekers are invited to learn more tomorrow.  For those ready to give it a try, you can sign up for cameras and even arrange a house-visit to connect cameras to your home computer.  According to Montclair SIC reps, “we have over 100 participants registered for this program, which is phenomenal for a new community-based program.”

Happy New Year: No Auto Break-in

Many Montclarions have been investing in surveillance cameras, partly to catch prowlers as they check out autos which are parked outside homes or on local streets.  This past weekend, one neighbor shared a snapshot from a prowler who didn’t find anything of interest — and didn’t bother breaking into a car either.

The would-be thief arrived Saturday morning at 12:40 am, over on Merriewood Drive.  This area, right off Thornhill Drive, features many older, renovated homes which simply don’t have garages.  A couple autos have been hit up in the area, with windows smashed and valuable items gone by morning.

According to the homeowner’s report on Montclair SIC’s message board:

Our security camera captured someone walking out of our carport, presumably after attempting a car burglary.  Our doors were locked and they did not appear to be walking away with anything.  No windows were broken.

The image doesn’t show the person’s face, [and] they were wearing dark tennis shoes with white trim, blue jeans, black sweatshirt with hood and white logo on the back, and gloves.  Another reminder to lock your car doors.

We have heard, repeatedly, to lock up and make sure nothing of value is left in your car.  Even ID information like your registration and insurance should be removed, lest that tempt the fates.  Yet nothing happened here, at least this time.

Neighbors and Cops Nab Burglars

When we first heard about the big burglar bust in the 5500 block of Harbord Drive on Friday, we called the Oakland Police Department to see what they could tell us. The cops said that neighbors and police had thwarted a break in at a marijuana grow house. That didn’t sound right to the neighbors, and so we held off writing anything until we could get the police report. It turns out that there was no marijuana growing in the house.

Here’s what went down according to the cops and eagle-eyed neighbors. At 2:47 pm, a neighbor called OPD to report a suspected burglary. Within minutes cops had arrived on the scene. One neighbor working in his home office looked out the window and saw three officers coming up his neighbor’s driveway with guns drawn. As he was hustling his wife and two girls upstairs, his daughter saw three people dash across the backyard deck. The man went back downstairs and saw three men crouched behind a bush across the street. He signaled their location to the police as the suspects dashed to the back of the house. Then he grabbed a baseball bat and went outside. He wasn’t the only one with that idea.

A number of residents were outside serving as extra eyes for the police. At least two men carried baseball bats. Neighbors report at least a dozen cop cars in the area. The police report doesn’t mention how many officers were there. Overkill or not, the sworn/civilian coordination worked. OPD arrested three suspects, a 15 year-old boy whose name can’t be released because he’s a minor, Matthew Buford, 19, and Michael Maes, 22. The trio drove to their would-be victim’s house in a stolen 2006 Pontiac Grand Am.

The man who saw the cops walking up his neighbor’s driveway retrieved a jar of money containing several hundred dollars in his backyard, which he was able to return to his neighbor. If the burglary had been successful, it would have been the 42nd burglary within the boundaries of 94611 in the past 60 days.

Henry Lee on a Hills Mystery

Here’s what you need to know about Henry K. Lee, the San Francisco Chronicle’s East Bay crime reporter. He sees more mayhem and human misery in a month than most people see in a lifetime, yet he is surely one of the most upbeat and pleasant personalities in the famously cynical news business. His news writing is crisp, snappy, and to the point. And as anyone who follows Oakland news can attest, Lee seems to live by the newspaper creed of “file early and often.”

Fans of crime non-fiction everywhere will be happy to learn that Lee paused briefly from the relentless demands of daily journalism to produce his first book. “Presumed Dead,” which comes out next week, investigates the strange, sordid, and sad story of Hans and Nina Reiser, a murder mystery that touched close to home for folks living in the Oakland Hills. The Reisers lived on Marden Lane. And when Hans finally confessed, and told police where he hid his wife’s body, she was found on a deer trail near Redwood Regional Park.

We spoke to Lee on Tuesday about the case and his new book.

Today in Montclair: You’ve reported on hundreds, probably thousands, of crime stories over the years, why did you choose this one to turn into a book?

Henry Lee: I covered the case from the very beginning, from the moment Nina first went missing. I ended up chasing Hans for a quote on the streets of Oakland. I was there everyday during the six month-long trial. It was full of twists and turns. And in between there was Hans’ strange behavior on the stand, his strange behavior before his arrest, and his stubbornness throughout the whole process. There was too much that could not be put into a newspaper article, so many elements of the story that needed some explanation.

TIM: What did you learn while researching Presumed Dead that surprised you?

HL: I certainly learned more about the case while working on the book. The behind the scenes stakeouts that the police conducted, the plane they used to surveil Hans from the air, there was a lot of technology that the public didn’t know about.

TIM: When you were watching Hans Reiser plead his innocence in court, did you believe him?

HL: There was a lot of circumstantial evidence that made people think he was the responsible person. I certainly had my suspicions about Hans from the very beginning because there were a lot of holes that needed to be filled. But there were three viable suspects from the start: Nina’s current boyfriend, Nina’s former boyfriend, and Hans. All three were looked at with equal fervor.

TIM: What’s the most interesting part of the tale for you?

HL: There’s a lot of key players in the case, and they all stand out in their own right. The interplay and interaction between all these people was quite fascinating. I am able to get into a Hans’ innermost thoughts. Sources close to the case gave me emails, letters, and wiretap conversations.

TIM: Did you talk to Hans for the book?

HL: I tried. But he threw up all these obstacles, including a request that I read Anna Karenina in its entirety. He also said that I should bring a polygraph so that he could prove what he’s saying about Nina being a threat to their children was true. I just got a letter from him two days ago saying “I don’t think you understand me, come and talk to me behind bars.”

TIM: How do you stay remarkably cheerful, surrounded as you are by so much of what’s ugly and tragic about human behavior.

HL: I count my blessings, and make the most of everyday.

Henry Lee will be at A Great Good Place for Books on Wednesday, July 7 for a launch party. The party starts at 7 pm. Enjoy wine and cheese, buy the book, and meet the author.

Montclarions Hear From Captain Toribio

Oakland Police Captain Anthony Toribio gets high marks for candor, after addressing a full house at the Montclair Safety & Improvement Council’s (MSIC) community meeting last night.  It’s gotta be tough to try doing more…with less.

Responsiveness In the Hills

On the topic of police responsiveness, Captain Toribio agreed that sometimes police don’t come when called in the hills.  “We have officers assigned to 13, but may call them down to the flatlands” to deal with life-and-limb priorities.

However the problem solving officers (PSOs) do review all beat crimes and, after two years, Officer Maureen Vergara keeps a tight watch on 13Z with help from Montclarions.  She described the current investigations underway, during this gathering.

When asked about private security, the Captain felt it might be useful.  In fact, downtown ambassadors serve as “eyes and ears” for the police today.  Yet he and other safety speakers focused on how neighbors could help in this regard too – by noticing anything suspicious or amiss and reporting it.

Police Cuts Ahead

The City of Oakland currently has a budget deficit pegged at $31.5 million, and this 2009-2010 gap must be closed in June.  With 85 percent of the general fund directed to police and fire departments, things don’t look good for the status quo.

Our police department is already getting prepared for new cost-saving schedules.  While standard patrols do matter, the priority will be responding to 911 calls related to violent crimes.  Captain Toribio foresees changes where police are scheduled for eight hour shifts, five days a week; right now, they work longer shifts three or four days a week.

Toribio didn’t know exactly what would happen next because the police union agents need to meet with the City and “paying into the pension systems is a component.”  According to Sue Piper, from Council Rep Jean Quan’s office, some $12 million is spent annually on the pensions.  After those negotiations play out, cuts to the police force could be inevitable.

None of this bodes well for city safety.  Although violent crimes have decreased, that might change.  And the property crimes we’re experiencing, including auto and home burglaries, are on a upward swing lately.  This community meeting provided a wake-up call:  batten down the safety hatches in Montclair.