On Wednesday night the Town Council unanimously approved a plan authorizing up to $197,000 to install cameras along the two peninsula entry points to snap photographs of license plates as vehicles enter and leave town.
If a crime is committed, police could then review the plates of autos that passed through town before and after an incident, gather a short list of names and check criminal records. The system also has the ability to instantly notify police if a particularly "wanted" auto comes into town, such as cars that are stolen or that may be involved in a kidnapping.
"Our primary interest is to use this as an investigative tool," said Tiburon police Chief Michael Cronin, who proposed the idea.
Asked by the council if the cameras would have helped in the investigation into the September homicide of Tiburon resident Joan Rosenthal, Cronin said: "I believe if we had these in place we would have had valuable leads."
The Tiburon plan would have six cameras in fixed locations at Tiburon Boulevard between Blackfield Drive and Vista Way, and in the 5000 block of Paradise Drive. Every camera would be capable of transmitting a color, digital image of every vehicle at its location - including at night - that would go to a computer server. The cameras will go on either Pacific Gas and Electric or Caltrans poles, or ones erected by the town.
About a dozen people spoke on the issue at the council meeting, with a split verdict on the use of cameras.
"I'm horrified this is before us," said Tiburon resident Terry Graham. "We shouldn't be surveiled every moment of the day. Why do we need to spend money to surveil residents who are innocent?"
Belvedere resident Bill Rothman said the town should have a new emblem and held up a homemade sign that read "TIBURON WE SEE YOU!"
"These are not security cameras, but insecurity cameras," he said.
But former mayor Andrew Thompson said the plan was solid.
"Imagine if we had a kidnapping and we could identify the car to get that child back," he said.
Said resident Al Anolik: "We have to give the police department all the tools that are available."
Only the rear of vehicles would be photographed by the cameras and identities of automobile passengers could not be determined. All data would be destroyed within 30 days. The cameras will not tilt or zoom.
Many police agencies across the country - such as in San Francisco - have mounted cameras in high-crime areas. The use of fixed cameras for non-traffic crimes is a first for Marin, town officials said.
The town is unique because it is on a peninsula and there are only two roads in and out, which allows for the efficient use of the cameras.
The most common crime in Tiburon is theft, either of vehicles or from vehicles and residences. Most of the crimes occurred between midnight and dawn and were committed by people who were not residents of the peninsula and who had extensive criminal histories, according to police data.
Cronin described those who come to Tiburon to commit crime as "unsophisticated opportunists and drug addicts."
The county sheriff's department, which patrols unincorporated areas of the peninsula, and the city of Belvedere, which has the same access point as Tiburon, are expected to help finance the project. Upkeep of the system could be as much as $15,000 a year.
"It's a safety tool," said Councilman Jeff Slavitz, noting the police department had to trim two positions recently. "This is a way to support a reduced police force."
Read more Tiburon & Belvedere stories at the IJ's Tiburon, Belvedere section.
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