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TMCNet:  LAPD to install 16 wireless surveillance cameras in Topanga, West Valley divisions

[July 04, 2012]

LAPD to install 16 wireless surveillance cameras in Topanga, West Valley divisions

Jul 04, 2012 (Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Soon, somewhere in the Valley, the police will be watching from the sky.

Sixteen wireless surveillance cameras will be placed in about 10 weeks around the Los Angeles Police Department's Topanga and West Valley divisions, which cover 66 square miles and about 450,000 people.

The city Police Commission approved a plan Tuesday to spend nearly $680,000 on the camera system if the mayor approves a contract with Reston, Va.-based CelPlan Technologies.

So where will they go? "I'm not telling you where I'm putting the cameras," Capt. Tom Brascia, the Topanga Division commander, said with a laugh.

He said revealing where the cameras are would only help criminals, but added, "It's going to be the area where we think we have the most crime, obviously. And that may shift." The cameras have been in the works for four years, but were held up because Councilman Dennis Zine insisted they be mobile.

These will send video over cell-phone networks, unlike existing cameras in the Mission Division, which are stationary and work via microwave signals.

In police work, the advantage of being mobile is obvious.

"The crime moves, the cameras move," said Capt. Nick Zingo, co-commander of the West Valley Division.

That means there could be more cameras in West Valley at some times and more in Topanga at others. They won't be monitored 24 hours a day, but they'll be watched by officers and more frequently by members of a 40-member "volunteer surveillance team" shared between Topanga and West Valley.

The system will record so officers can review footage later to help catch criminals and prosecutors can use it as evidence in court.

The $679,000 comes from discretionary funds controlled by Zine, revenue generated by ad sales on public benches and other street furniture. About $636,000 would go to CelPlan, and the rest is earmarked for high-speed Internet lines and other technology to support.

As technology improves, it's likely there will be more cameras with better capabilities. In a few years, officers might be able to watch them from computers in their patrol cars.

"How cool would that be?" Brascia said.

"Probably one day in the future, looking at a Star Trek world where the officer can put it up in the car and then immediately go to the location where the crime is being committed -- we'll probably see that someday, but not in his career or my career," Zingo said, standing next to Brascia.

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the city to stop surveillance programs, both because of privacy worries -- there has been abuse elsewhere -- and out of concern they don't work as well as advertised.

Zine, a retired police officer who's now a volunteer reserve officer, brushed off such objections. So did police, saying anyone who's in public has no expectation of privacy and law-abiding people have nothing to worry about.

"We're not putting these in backyards or homes," Zine said.

The existence of the cameras won't be a secret. But police plan to be coy about where they are and even who owns which ones.

"If you put signage up, that's part of a deterrent," Brascia said. "But I may put up signs where there's no cameras." As other cities have done, might the LAPD also spread dummy cameras around so people never know where the real cameras are? "It could be," Zingo said with a smile.

He added: "It's just like the signs you see: 'Photo Radar.' Is it really, or is it just a sign because a sign's cheaper?" Zingo said the extensive network of cameras owned by the city's Department of Transportation might also provide some help. If people confuse those cameras for police cameras, it could help deter crime.

He imagined someone driving or walking around the Valley in a few months and seeing cameras on a traffic signal: "So whose cameras are they?" eric.hartley@dailynews.com 818-514-5610 twitter.com/ethartley ___ (c)2012 the Daily News (Los Angeles) Visit the Daily News (Los Angeles) at www.dailynews.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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