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LAPD plans to finance surveillance camera repair...somehow

By Paige Osburn
Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2012, at 01:59PM
Police camera AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

A typical surveillance camera. Is it working? Is it broken? Many are not active, officials say.

This is hard to do when you’re not sure where all the broken cameras are…or when they’re broken.

“It’s like your cell,” Commander Andrew Smith explained. “My Verizon works great except when I make the corner off the 405 freeway. But it’s sporadic. Sometimes I pick up the phone in my living room and it cuts out, sometimes I pick it up and it works great.”

There are 38 cameras in downtown Los Angeles that were purchased with donations from private organizations in the neighborhood. Of those, ten are in Skid Row… and none of them are in great shape.

“Some are broken, some of them are down,” said Captain Horace Frank, commanding officer of Central Division (which oversees Skid Row). “And there’s no money to put them back online. In the end, it all comes back to money.”

The biggest problem, they say, is upkeep. The LAPD has gone through multiple maintenance companies in its effort to find one reliable source of upgrades for the years-old camera technology. The first company it went through went bankrupt. So did the second. So did the third.

According to the LAPD, Los Angeles has around 300 cameras scattered throughout the city limits. Much of the surveillance is clustered in areas like MacArthur Park, Hollywood Boulevard, and Newton Division (South-Central) — areas that don’t just have a lot of crime, but have a lot of street-crime that targets pedestrians.

However, at the end of the day, the presence of security cameras in a district may have less to do with crime and more to do with money.

According to Commander Smith, many cameras come about only through private funding…making the numbers more dependent on whichever group wants to bankroll neighborhood safety by donating cameras.

This ranges from the Central City East Association (who donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars for the cameras in Skid Row) to the Motion Picture Association of America, who, according to Smith, paid for the ten in the Fashion District in order to curb suspected DVD piracy.

This lack of a centralized funding source is one of the major reasons for the maintenance debacle.

“Nothing is centralized,” said Frank. “You look at Central Area, Rampart, Hollywood, Southwest, Mission—all of these police have individual funds from individual businesses who have their own individual sources... We need to have a consistent approach.”

Consistency is hard to establish when you’re reliant on outside funders for equipment. In 2010, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA LA) donated an additional $25,000 to give the cameras a "technological facelift." That funding has been whittled down to $16,000.

“And you can’t do much with $16,000,” according to Frank. Last week, Central Division hired a contractor (their fourth) to inspect the cameras and deliver two estimates: one the work they can do with $16,000, and one for the work they actually have to do and what that work will cost.

Captain Frank and Central Division have quickly pulled together a Central Area Camera Committee, one which will feature representatives from both the police and the seven major business development agencies in downtown. The plan? To secure funds for the maintenance wherever they can.

The first meeting of the committee will take place in January.

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