Eyes on the trail
City Council approves camera surveillance system along crime-ridden bike path
A path running along the western boundary of Chico State is known colloquially among some students as the “rape trail.” Most agree that biking or walking it alone at night is a sketchy proposition, as do Chico Police.
It parallels Nord Avenue from Big Chico Creek to the pedestrian crossing at West Sacramento Avenue. There, in the seclusion provided by elevated train tracks on one side and the empty fields of the university’s sports complex on the other, police have recorded 196 crimes since January 2013, including assaults, stabbings and robberies. Though most of the people who travel along the corridor are college students, the path is not owned by the university (i.e., the state) but rather the city.
Chico Police Lt. Matt Madden came before the City Council during its regular meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 16) with a proposal aimed at deterring violent crime on the bikeway: installing a system of surveillance cameras. The cameras would be affixed to and draw energy from existing light poles at an up-front cost of about $19,000, Madden said, which would be covered by donations from supportive business owners along the Nord Avenue corridor and other interested groups. Maintaining the system would cost the city about $900 a year.
Acknowledging the passage is dangerous at night, Councilwoman Ann Schwab hesitated only because the cameras might provide a false sense of security.
“Part of me thinks we should just close the thing at night,” she said. “Are we inviting people to go into this area and potentially hurt themselves?”
Based on the results of a surveillance system installed on a similar bike path at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Madden was optimistic that the cameras—and signage that the area is monitored by Chico PD—would make would-be criminals think twice.
“I really think it’s going to be a deterrent,” he said. “If someone calls 911 and says, ‘I’m having a problem on the bike path,’ our dispatch supervisor can get on that camera and provide officers with information. They’re streaming; we can zoom in and out. … We may be able to avoid a crime that’s about to occur.”
Dan Herbert, director of Chico State’s off-campus Student Services, spoke on behalf of the university. He read a letter from the mother of a student who, while riding his bike along the path, was badly beaten by assailants with baseball bats. The student escaped with severe contusions and lacerations and a concussion, and his bike was stolen and his laptop damaged beyond repair. His attackers were never apprehended.
“The university supports these cameras,” Herbert concluded.
Convinced, the panel voted 6-0—Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer was absent due to a broken ankle, said Mayor Mark Sorensen—to approve the project. Councilman Randall Stone then lauded the police department’s effort and encouraged more like it.
“This makes the community safer without tremendous expense,” he said.
In another unanimous vote, the council approved a new code of conduct—for itself.
Following a high-profile fracas in October, when Stone posted criticisms of City Clerk Debbie Presson’s handling of past City Council campaign finance reports on Facebook—and subsequently came under fire from his council colleagues—the panel considered a draft code of conduct policy, which they punted to the Internal Affairs Committee for further discussion. The amended policy, which came before the council on Tuesday, outlines how council members are to interact with city staff and implements mandatory harassment and discrimination training for the newly elected.
There was discussion of where on the chain of command to take complaints regarding individual staff members. As Schwab and Councilwoman Tami Ritter agreed, one wouldn’t want to take a grievance about, say, the city manager to the city manager.
However, the council seemed resigned that the new policy was imperfect, and that it would serve only as a guiding document. Vice Mayor Sean Morgan described the policy as “a loose umbrella” rather than “a catch-all for every circumstance.”
“It’s really hard to teach professionalism,” he said. “Some people get it and some people don’t.”