Homemade Surveillance Cameras Appear Near Lake Merritt After Recent Shootings

On April 6, 33-year-old Devon Stanford and his girlfriend were walking near Lake Merritt when they were robbed. In the heat of the confrontation, Stanford was shot, probably by one of the robbers. He later died in a hospital.

Known as “the dead end,” the approximately quarter-mile span of Lakeshore Avenue along which Stanford was killed begins, where Lakeshore splits from 1st Avenue at Pittman Green and ends at the iconic 1200 Lakeshore Avenue building. The road has great views of the water and plenty of parking next to a lake path and park benches. The street, which was created in 2012 when the city adapted several roads, has become a popular meeting place.

But in recent years, the area has seen an increase in violence.

There was one shooting in the area between 2017 and 2019, an incident in which no one was killed. There have been four firearms homicides in the past two years, including that of Stanford – an unusual concentration of violence in a cul-de-sac. Three of these murders took place in the past five months, and there have been eight more nonfatal shootings in the same area in the past year.

Lakeshore Avenue residents are increasingly concerned about their safety.

Michael Chesher, who lives along the cul-de-sac, said he was in his apartment when he heard outside commotion on April 6. He looked out the window and saw police and paramedics responding to the most recent shooting. The level of violence in the neighborhood reminds his family to leave.

“It’s crazy. We moved in September,” he says. “The idea that there have been three murders since then, on one street, doesn’t make you feel good living here.”

Last year, some neighbors started a petition calling for more police surveillance on the street. OPD chief LeRonne Armstrong recently met with neighbors via Zoom about security concerns.

And after a recent shooting, someone took matters into their own hands by installing eight surveillance cameras on four of the city’s street lamp posts. The cameras had an excellent view of the parking lots and sidewalks. But the surveillance system has been somewhat of a mystery: The cameras weren’t installed by the city, and officials don’t know who placed them there.

Calls for more safety

A memorial and sign to Devon Stanford, who was killed in a robbery earlier this month in front of the 1200 Lakeshore Avenue building. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

The cameras appeared amid residents’ outcry for the city and OPD to do more to prevent violence in the neighborhood. They also came as some residents and businesses in other parts of Oakland pushed for their own array of cameras. A proposal to use city funds to pay for cameras in East Oakland will soon be considered by the Oakland Privacy Commission. And San Leandro plans to install 41 surveillance cameras downtown and in other parts of the city.

Some researchers have found that cameras can reduce crime, while others have shown that they are ineffective. There is also the trade-off between the desire for security and the potential for surveillance to be misused by the police or others.

Assistant city administrator Joe DeVries told The Oaklandside that the city was recently notified of the unauthorized Lake Merritt cameras and decided they had to be removed because they were illegally installed on city property.

According to Oakland’s Surveillance Ordinance, a 2018 bill passed to balance civil liberties with new technologies, any surveillance device installed on city properties must first be assessed for its potential impact. If the benefits for reducing or solving crime or other purposes do not clearly outweigh the potentially harmful effects, it can be rejected by the city council.

The surveillance cameras set up on Lakeshore never went through this process.

“We didn’t find out who installed them and we couldn’t access the data from anyone I know when I contacted OPD,” DeVries said. “We have asked OakDOT to make a work order for the staff to take down the cameras as they are not authorized and mounted on a city property.”

At the end of last week, the cameras were removed by a city crew.

No one has stepped forward to claim them, DeVries said.

The owners of several buildings on the street did not respond to calls from The Oaklandside asking about recent security issues and the cameras.

Fake cameras, real concerns

On Monday, DeVries told The Oaklanside that there was another twist to the story.

The cameras, it turns out, were fake. They were installed so carefully that it looked like they were plugged into the streetlights’ electrical sources, and some even had flashing red lights. None of them recorded images.

But according to court records, other nearby surveillance cameras captured video of recent shootings at Lake Merritt.

Devani Aleman-Sanchez, 22, was shot and killed on Nov. 11 by two men on the 1400 block of Lakeshore, not far from the dead end. OPD says surveillance footage from unidentified cameras on the street identified two men with guns who committed the robbery, according to court records. OPD has arrested an Alameda man and a Stockton man and they are charged with the murder of Aleman-Sanchez.

The Oakland Police Department told The Oaklandside they believe the area has seen an increase in violence because it’s a scenic spot where people like to party in the evenings, but it’s also a place “where individuals can watch the police drive in, which makes it a challenge for police to enforce [against] illegal activity.”

According to OPD and residents, a recent decision by the city to eliminate overnight parking in the dozens of lake-side parking lots inadvertently led to more people gathering. Residents of Lakeshore Avenue took up much of the parking lot at night, making it difficult for others to find a place to stop and party. With so many new spots, larger groups of people have gathered to relax by the lake, and they may be the target of robberies.

Whether fake cameras or real cameras are part of the solution, OPD, residents and Councilman Nikki Fortunato Bas all say there are other strategies that can help reduce violence on Lakeshore Avenue.

Councilor Bas told The Oaklandside that new parking permits for the area could also help fill up the parking lots late at night, preventing crowds from gathering and becoming the target of violent crime. And her office has asked for more help from OPD. “OPD has made an active effort to patrol this part of the lake and to investigate crimes and make arrests following tragic incidents of violence,” said Bas.

DeVries said the city will return the cameras to their owners if they step forward. Meanwhile, the city has no plans to put up surveillance cameras on the streets.

Leave a Reply