L.A. Police Crank up Surveillance Cameras to Spy on 450,000 Residents

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

London has an estimated 500,000 surveillance cameras stashed around the city, watching and recording the movements of people as they perform the most innocuous activities and every once in a while commit a crime.

Los Angeles is not London, but the city aspires to keep the same close eye on its residents and visitors. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently flipped the switch on 16 cameras in the northern San Fernando Valley suburbs that use wireless and face recognition technology to give officers and volunteers sitting in a control room miles away a birds-eye view of the unsuspecting subjects.

The cameras, which zoom and tilt for maximum viewing, cost $680,000 and cover a 66-square-mile area that has 450,000 residents. They are not the first police surveillance cameras in the city.

Thirty-eight new downtown cameras were being prepared to go last November at a cost of $225,000. The cameras, to be monitored by two officers five days a week, 12 hours a day, are replacing a bunch of defunct devices that never got the job done.

In December 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that most of the three dozen or so cameras installed two years earlier didn’t work. Many were busted. Six cameras meant to watch Little Tokyo had never been plugged into police monitoring bank and the department couldn’t find a vendor to regularly maintain the cameras. The control room was so small and ventilation so poor that the system sometimes overheated. According to police reports, officers were poorly trained in dealing with the equipment and sometimes broke it.

At that point, the LAPD had around 300 cameras around the city.

Critics of the cameras say they are invasions of  privacy, an assault on civil liberties and a waste of scarce public dollars. Fans of the cams argue that people have no right to expect privacy in public places, and that they are used extensively by private businesses and residences for security purposes.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

LAPD Unveils Surveillance Cameras in West San Fernando Valley (by Adolfo Flores, Los Angeles Times)

LAPD's 16 San Fernando Valley Surveillance Cameras Go Live (by Eric Hartley, Los Angeles Daily News)

LAPD to Install 38 Working Surveillance Cameras in Downtown (by Hayley Fox, Blogdowntown)

LAPD Botched Use of Downtown Crime Cameras (by Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times)

A Timeline of LAPD Spying and Surveillance (Stop LAPD Spying) (pdf)

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