Daly City Vice Mayor David Canepa says creating safe exchange zones will help deter crimes during in-person transactions. (Brendan Bartholomew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Daly City considers safe exchange zones

Daly City Vice Mayor David Canepa says tragedies similar to the 2013 shooting death of a resident may be averted if the city provides a safe exchange zone, where people buying and selling items can meet in front of the police department.

There is some disagreement from city staff about the cost and level of surveillance equipment that would be required, but all sides seem to agree the idea is worth considering.

Ikenna Uwakah, a Daly City resident, was shot to death Dec. 21, 2013, after he and girlfriend Rachael Pecota agreed to meet Ronnie Collins, 24, to sell him a Sony Playstation 4 video game console, which they had advertised on Instagram. In a trial that began this week in San Francisco, prosecutors allege Collins met the pair in the Bayview neighborhood and shot Uwakah during a failed robbery attempt.

The Daly City Police Department occupies the same building as city hall. And under Canepa’s proposed ordinance, certain parking spots in front of the government building would be designated as part of a safe exchange zone. There, residents could complete Craigslist sales or similar transactions.

The close proximity to the police department and knowledge the area is under video surveillance would discourage robberies, Canepa said.

But City Manager Pat Martel said the city would need to spend almost $12,000 on new video surveillance equipment in order to properly implement the vice mayor’s proposal.

“The Daly City Police Department said we need high-resolution cameras that can pan the parking lot and pick up license plates,” Martel said. “It’s not a huge price tag, but to characterize it as a no-cost item is not accurate.”

Canepa said other cities around the country have set up safe exchange zones without buying new equipment, and he claims the existing video camera currently covering the after hours emergency phone outside the police station is adequate for the task.

But Martel noted the existing camera doesn’t have the ability to pan the parking lot, something the police identified as a requirement.

Safe exchange zones were implemented last year in Sandy City, Utah, and Clovis, Calif. Police officers in both towns said their existing video equipment was up to the task.

Sandy City Police Sgt. Dean Carriger said things have run smoothly since his agency created its safe exchange zone in September, but noted technology is only part of the deterrent.

“Typically, somebody with an evil intent isn’t going to want to come anywhere near a police station,” Carriger said.

Clovis Police Sgt. Jim Munro said his department’s safe exchange zone has been very popular since the program began in November and using existing cameras has worked out well. But he noted if Daly City wants to install a smart system that can read and track license plate numbers, he would be in favor of such a strategy.

“I like what that police department’s thinking,” Munro said.

Canepa said a local business owner has volunteered to cover the cost of painting curbs and installing signs to designate which parking spaces are part of the safe exchange zone.

“The bottom line is, we’re going to get this done without it costing the taxpayer one single dime,” Canepa said.

Martel said she trusts the police department’s cost assessment, and adequate video evidence could be crucial to any criminal investigations related to the proposed safe exchange zone.

“You can’t advertise a zone as safe if you’re not taking reasonable steps to provide safety,” the city manager noted. “If we end up going to court on something, we’ve got to be able to produce the video as the evidence that led us to follow up on any criminal activity.”

Citing a need to work out the issues raised by staff, Canepa removed the proposed ordinance from the City Council’s March 14 agenda. He said the matter will likely be revisited in early May.

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