Beth Laberge/The S.F. ExaminerA criminal epiphany: Traci Teraoka has become an advocate of using surveillance cameras to prevent crime.

Shopkeeper crusades to fight crime with cameras

Rob her once, shame on you. But if you rob Presidio Heights shopkeeper Tracy Teraoka twice, you might as well smile for the cameras.

The owner of Poetica Art and Antiques at 3461 Sacramento St., recently launched an effort with police to convince fellow neighborhood merchants that installing cameras is worth the expense. It only took one shoplifting incident, Teraoka said, before she was convinced she needed extra eyes on her store.

“It wasn’t expensive,” she said, “and it wasn’t difficult to install.”

Teraoka purchased a Swann video surveillance system from RadioShack that includes two cameras for $400. The cameras would have been nice to have, she said, when a shoplifter swiped a $300 piece of jewelry from her store two months ago.

When reporting the incident to police, Teraoka said she felt helpless.

“Basically I had no evidence,” she said.

Not wanting other merchants to share that feeling, the shopkeeper is on a crusade to promote the installation of more cameras at area stores. She believes merchants like herself might think it’s too costly and complicated to put in.

Last Thursday, Teraoka coordinated a community meeting with Sgt. Mike Murphy from Richmond Station and the nonprofit SF Safe to send that message to merchants and neighbors.

The day after the meeting, she said, some of the meeting’s attendees stopped in her store to inquire more about her camera system.

According to police, thieves often target small businesses assuming they don’t possess the same security measures used in large department stores.

Having cameras not only helps to deter criminals, it helps bring cases against suspects to court, police spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi said.

“If you’re a victim of a crime, a picture is worth a thousand words,” Manfredi said. “A video camera is worth more.”

Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian agreed, saying unlike video footage, memories sometimes fade when witnesses are testifying in criminal cases.

Manfredi said investigators often solve crimes committed on the streets using the cameras erected by businesses and apartment complexes. Earlier this year, he pointed out, video surveillance taken from a building helped lead to the identification of a serial rape suspect in the Mission district.

When video footage leads to an arrest, Manfredi said, more victims are spared from encountering that criminal.
“They have led to more arrests,” he said.

Teraoka said will continue to preach the message to the community.

“I’m just hoping to keep the conversation going, to get the word out,” Teraoka said. “The idea is not to feel helpless, but to be aware.”

maldax@sfexaminer

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