Palo Alto residents are demanding action from city leaders to increase oversight of a program intended to protect teens.
In March, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit’s hidden cameras captured video of security guards, hired to watch for at-risk youth, missing from their posts for more than an hour at a time.
Now, more than a month after our investigation, parents, a former teacher, and a city council candidate say the problems persist.
New photos taken this week and sent to the Investigative Unit, revealed empty guard posts during hours when the trains are running.
“It’s a life or death issue,” former Gunn High teacher Marc Vincenti told NBC Bay Area. After losing several students as a teacher, Vincenti formed Savethe2008, a community group dedicated to addressing mental health. “Those empty chairs can’t help but sent out a discouraging signal to the kids who pass by, the motorists that pass by, that something is not being taken care of.”
Guards for Cypress Security are supposed to stand watch around the clock at four train crossings throughout the city. These sites include locations where more than a dozen teens have taken their own lives since 2009.
But over the last seven days, Vincenti and Palo Alto City Council candidate Todd Collins say they documented 27 instances of guards absent from their posts.
Their spot checks come on the heels of our four days of surveillance in March where NBC Bay Area undercover cameras captured guards sleeping, texting, and missing from duty. Following our report, the Investigative Unit received an outpouring of viewer comments and emails sharing similar findings.
“Our situation here in Palo Alto has disturbed the nation,” Vincenti said.
In February, a team of researchers and mental health experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent two weeks studying teen deaths in the city.
Just last month, another recent high school graduate ended her life on the tracks at an unguarded location. The city has now added a new post there to prevent future tragedies.
Palo Alto City Manager Jim Keene declined to be interviewed for our previous reports on this issue. The city has yet to respond to our request for comment on these new concerns.
Meanwhile, Vincenti and others are calling for more accountability to address the issue before anyone else is hurt.
“The city and the school district must do whatever it takes to make sure that there are guards out there. The only way to do that is to have someone going out and checking," Vincenti said.
Adding to the problem, residents tell us they’re also worried about the working conditions for the guards who expressed they’re working overtime and double shifts.
The owner of Cypress Security has not responded to our request for comment, but said he intends to later in the week.
SUICIDE PREVENTION: If you know someone who needs help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).