Police to Overhaul Downtown Surveillance Cameras
Los Angeles Downtown News
By Nicholas Slayton
October 9, 2017

DTLA – In 2005, a collection of Downtown business groups partnered with the Los Angeles Police Department to install a series of surveillance cameras across three neighborhoods. The goal was to monitor area streets in the effort to fight criminal activity. The program looked to be a success: A year after launching, a Central Division sergeant told Los Angeles Downtown News that the cameras had helped in the arrest of nearly 200 suspects.

The progress didn’t last. In ensuing years many of the 36 cameras were either damaged or not maintained. In the end, more than half went offline.

Central Division is now working on a program to restore the cameras, according to Capt. Marc Reina. He said the department has finished an evaluation to determine which cameras need to be replaced and which ones are still operational.

The department is also working on a deal with a camera vendor for the new equipment, Reina added. Once that is finished, the new cameras will be installed.

The majority of the cameras are in the Historic Core, and others are in the Fashion District and Skid Row. The repairs and replacements are being paid for with a $120,000 grant from the Los Angeles Police Foundation, an independent group that provides financial support and technology to the LAPD.

“It has been a very long time since we funded a CCTV expansion or establishment,” said Cecilia Aguilera Glassman, executive director of the foundation. “It’s been four years since the last one and that was in Baldwin Hills. This is definitely a much-needed upgrade.”

Glassman said Central Division submitted a grant application on June 21, and the foundation quickly approved the request. All of the locations and details were chosen by Central Division.

The money will go to the installation, repair and overhauling of the full network of cameras.

“We’re using the money to revamp what we can, save what we can and add new cameras, new wiring, and upgrade systems from over a decade ago,” Reina said.

The cameras were initially set up in 2005 in the Fashion District in response to the sale of pirated DVDs; they were paid for by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Soon after, similar systems were set up in Skid Row, with the Central City East Association, a business improvement district, paying for 10 cameras, and in the Historic Core, where the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District covered the cost of installing 15 cameras. The system allowed police to monitor activity and spot crimes such as drug sales. The video could also be used as evidence after suspects had been arrested. Two officers monitored live footage from a converted jail cell inside Central Division.

Over the years the system faltered. The cameras need repairs or replacement for a variety of reasons, Reina said. Some of it is due to the growth of Downtown. He noted that certain cameras were removed or destroyed during the renovation of historic buildings.

Other times the destruction was intentional. In some cases, particularly in Skid Row, people have thrown rocks or shot pellet guns at the cameras to disable them, Reina said.

The situation with broken or missing cameras is not new. In 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that many of the cameras were out of service and were not being maintained by the police. The Times story noted challenges in finding a vendor to regularly maintain the system after cameras were damaged. Additionally, some officers assigned were not properly trained on using the system, the Times reported.

The repairs and replacements will benefit Downtown Los Angeles residents, said Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Association. She added that the new cameras will have the most modern technology, which should help their longevity and the tracking of crime.

“We are very grateful to the Police Foundation for this grant and to Central Division for spearheading this,” Lopez said.

Once the system is operational, employees in Central Division’s Skid Row headquarters will be watching what unfolds on the streets. At least one police officer will be monitoring the live feeds, Reina said, though he noted that police will not be watching the footage 24 hours a day. If a crime is spotted, Central Division can dispatch officers to the scene.

Reina added that in cases where officers are not watching the feeds, but a crime occurs, police will be able to go back and review the footage.

The hope is that the cameras will have an impact similar to when the devices were originally installed. Lopez recalled that the payoff for the initial investment was quick.

“That was the principal driving force why we donated,” she said. “We hope that they can achieve that again in reducing violent incidents.”

Reina said Central Division will take steps to ensure the cameras are not attacked or destroyed as in the past. One move, he said, will be to put them in places where it will be difficult or impossible for pedestrians to fling rocks or debris at them. He added that the department will also contact building owners to make sure the system is not interfering with any construction activity. He noted that Central Division has two civilian technology specialists who are assigned to handle maintenance and liaison with property managers.

“If there are any renovations being done, then they reach out to us right away,” Reina said.

The overhaul of the 36 cameras is expected to take one month once work begins. That will happen after Central Division signs a contract with the camera vendor.

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