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Surveillance Systems & Money

Robert Keyes |

Compton and Vallejo, Calif.—what do they have in common? And: Why is “money” included in the title of this article?

They are cities of similar size; possess diverse populations; have challenging crime problems with gangs, violence and prostitution at the top of the list; and both have city-wide surveillance systems.

Oh yeah—I almost forgot—Compton and Vallejo also have huge financial problems that have made national headlines.

Compton’s Efforts
The City of Compton entered into the camera business in 2007 when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), who provides policing services to Compton, partnered with the Safe Cities Foundation to install fourteen PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) cameras in the newly constructed Gateway Town Center and four cameras at the Compton Civic Center on the roof of the Compton Branch of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Also, as part of the installation, LASD included six license plate recognition (LPR) cameras using PIPS technology.

This initial system was funded exclusively by the private sector with significant contributions from Target Corporation and Belkin International.

The cameras proved to be successful over time and, as a result, the city recently upgraded the existing system and also installed an additional twenty cameras in nine of the Compton city parks. These cameras are actively monitored in the Compton LASD dispatch center, where three dispatch positions have viewing stations and a video wall has been added to further enhance the system. One monitor on this video wall is also dedicated to LPR—with audio—so a LPR alert will garner the attention of the dispatchers and the watch deputy, even during busy times.

Although LASD currently monitors 38 PTZ cameras in Compton, they’re working with the city to increase the surveillance system by yet another 50 cameras and to also add an additional 22 LPR cameras to be installed at six east-west choke points.

Besides the expansion of the LPR component of the surveillance system, a major focus of this expansion will be near ubiquitous video coverage along Long Beach Blvd., where there’s significant criminal activity, particularly prostitution.
The initial video system at Gateway Town Center had a fiber optic infrastructure, but the parks project and the city-wide expansion weren’t so fortunate, so the entire expansion will be built out using wireless technology. Firetide radios were the initial choice for the parks project and Compton will continue using them as they have proven to be very dependable.

The funding for this expansion has been a combination of Community Development Block Grants and local bond monies.

Vallejo’s Efforts
Vallejo began their system by installing 20 PTZ cameras at selected locations determined by the police department. Like Compton, Vallejo has a problem with prostitution and gangs and their camera placement was determined with that in mind. Theirs is a new system and its brief existence has been met with a great deal of community support, to the point that business owners have asked to fund additional cameras with private dollars.

Vallejo will soon be linking an additional 26 cameras, located in a parking garage, to their existing system. These additional cameras are a mix of PTZ and fixed and are a disparate system, but these added cameras will integrate with their system.

So, pleased with what the existing system has done, Vallejo has immediate plans to add an additional twelve cameras.

Vallejo does have fiber infrastructure, but also uses wireless technology and, like Compton, Vallejo also uses Firetide radios.

Similar to Compton, Vallejo’s video monitoring is done in the 911 communication center. This can be challenging as dispatchers already have their hands full multitasking the different duties required in a 911 center. Because of this, care has to be taken to provide a well-designed workspace, one which works well with the system.

Dispatchers in Vallejo are able to bring up a camera when an event occurs, and do it in a manner that aids, rather than hinders, their 911 responsibilities. While there can be reluctance to accept additional duties by already overloaded dispatch staff, experience says a well-designed system will be effectively used as time progresses, as staff sees success stories pile up.

The best case scenario would be to have full-time employees monitor the cameras that don’t have other responsibilities. But that can be cost prohibitive. Some agencies have used light-duty officers, part-time employees and volunteers, and found success. Anyway you look at it, you have to have well-considered monitoring program.

How Do You Pay for It?
In building a surveillance system like Compton’s or Vallejo’s, where do you start when it comes to researching what to buy and who to have build it?
When both Compton and Vallejo’s systems are complete, costs sum into the millions of dollars, which is pretty hard to come by in these tough economic times.

These systems have been acquired through traditional purchasing mechanisms relying on bid processes that at times leave something to be desired. While both Compton and Vallejo are very happy with the integrator that provided their video solution, as public agencies, we have entered a new era regarding finances.

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