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Lack of maintenance, training led to failure of LAPD surveillance cameras Downtown

By Paige Osburn
Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2011, at 02:51PM
ballyscanlon/Getty Images

According to the LA Times, LAPD's Central Station is responsible for 36 cameras, including 16 in Historic Downtown and 10 in the Fashion District.

The Los Angeles Times reported this weekend that a majority of the surveillance cameras in downtown L.A. don't work properly – and haven't for years.

"How many crimes could there have been that nobody's talked about?" Andrew Blankstein, the story's co-author, rhetorically asked KPCC's Patt Morrison. "Detectives go out [to crime scenes] and ask for camera footage and in many cases are just told 'no.'"

According to the L.A. Times, LAPD's Central Station is responsible for 36 cameras, including 16 in Historic Downtown and 10 in the Fashion District. The other 10 were donated to the LAPD by the Central City East Association to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars. At the time, the privately-donated, publically-maintained effort was widely praised by everyone from small business owners to the city council.

"Surveillance cameras have proven to be an effective deterrent of crime throughout the city," City Councilwoman Jan Perry told KABC-TV at the time. "They are a valuable tool that can be used by our officers to apprehend criminals who prey on our community."

That was in 2006. Fast forward five years, and LAPD officials have acknowledged that the department has not been properly maintaining or monitoring the downtown cameras – mainly because they simply don't know how.

"It's like buying a car without an extended warranty," LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez Jr. told the Times. "We know the reasons it doesn't work. Now we are trying to make it work."

The cameras are operately remotely, via joysticks that make the cameras pan, tilt, turn, and zoom. What wound up happening, Blankstein said, is that sensitive cameras would break under the hands of officers untrained to use the joysticks. Without a company on call to maintain the cameras, the LAPD had no one to call for help.

In 2010, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA LA) donated an additional $25,000 to give the cameras a "technological facelift." It's unknown how much the funding helped since little effort was made to survey the cameras themselves.

According to a 2008 report released by USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development, cameras in Los Angeles "have not been analyzed by the city or some other official body to determine their efficacy."

"You always see the proverbial press conference, everyone patting themselves on the back," said Blankstein. "The problem is after that, there's really not as much thought given."

Blankstein said that as he was gathering information for the piece, more cameras were rolled out in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. All of them, according to Police Commissioner Alan Skobin, had limited maitanence contracts.


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