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LAPD plans to include private cameras in 10K-strong surveillance network

LAPD plans to include private cameras in 10K-strong surveillance network
 

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) intends to develop a new surveillance center that will give police centralized access to live security feeds from cameras in public and private spaces, pending budget approval from Mayor Karen Bass. The department hopes to be able to access 10,000 cameras through the city through the program, which has been dubbed LAPD Live.

Real-time surveillance center to utilize life feeds from home security cameras

The real-time crime command center would give police access to security cameras in and on city buildings, stores, police body cams and the department’s helicopters. It would integrate other software such as the Compstat intelligence tool onto one single screen. Homeowners could also register their own security cameras with the department to share footage from their property and be notified if a crime is committed nearby.

LAPD argues the program will reduce time and money spent on investigating crimes, gathering evidence, and talking to witnesses while “eliminat[ing] the need for officer visits to private residents” which in turn “preserves individual privacy.” It would also help mitigate the effect of a recent decline in sworn officers.

The LAPD previously tried to do something similar with Neighbors, an app that shares Ring camera footage and alerts with public safety officials. Those who agreed to Neighbors’ terms of service shared their information with police that would normally require a warrant, even when a crime hasn’t occurred. Some may have unknowingly shared their data with police.

Ring also made the LAPD a brand ambassador through a program, giving out free cameras in exchange for sign-ups. The program ended in 2019, and shortly after the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the LAPD had sent requests to Ring users to obtain footage of Black Lives Matter protests.

Around the same time frame, at least 50 other local police throughout the U.S. also partnered with Ring, subsidizing doorbell purchases that would in turn expand surveillance capabilities for police while allowing them to circumvent traditional approval processes. Ring also filed a patent to add facial recognition to the devices but never announced plans to add the feature after public criticism.

Police are also leveraging Ring camera privacy loopholes in one-off instances. In Ohio, one man with 21 Ring cameras in and outside his home had to share any footage the police demanded after the company said it – and not the owner of the home – had received a warrant.

And in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed put a measure on the next ballot to deregulate police use of facial recognition as tech investors contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding toward the cause.

Surveillance will cost state of California and participating businesses

The center is projected to cost $1 million as part of a proposed $239 million budget increase for Los Angeles police. It received approval from the Board of Police Commissioners for the budget request for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, despite that seven members of the public spoke out against the program at the meeting. It must now receive approval from Mayor Bass and the LA City Council.

Funding could cover costs for software, new computers, and training. Fusus’ real-time surveillance software would cost almost $300,000 a year to operate. If the budget increase is approved, the program would first be piloted in three patrol areas before being implemented in all 21 of LAPD police stations and four major patrol bureaus.

The department released a formal outline of the plan in an October 2023 grant application to the state of California for a broader effort to combat organized retail theft – called Project Blue Light. The state would end up awarding a $15 million grant, which would fund the acquisition of 300 new automatic license plate reader (ALPR) cameras as well as infrastructure costs, in December 2023.

Project Blue Light would allow LAPD to access real-time video feeds of shoppers and workers. Businesses that wish to participate would need to cover costs on their own, exact numbers for which have not been revealed. Costs would vary based on the number of cameras registered.

Surveillance may not mitigate crime, but could impact future of over-policing

Recent patterns in shoplifting crime rates raise questions as to why officials would expand surveillance. The new anti-shoplifting program comes after a 28.7 percent spike in shoplifting between 2021 and 2022, but a 10 percent decline in shoplifting between 2015 and 2022.

The program may also fall short in combating violent crime. The National Institute of Justice gave Project Green Light, a similar Detroit real-time surveillance program sans the use of private cameras, a No Effects rating when evaluating its impact on crime reduction, claiming the program made no statistically significant difference in the reporting of violent crime or disorder occurrences a year after its implementation. Reported property crimes, however, saw a 27 percent decrease.

With the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2028 Olympics set to take place in Los Angeles, the LAPD intends to have the surveillance program in full effect in time to keep these events secure.

A community group against the LA 2028 Olympics called NOlympics claimed that in the past, increased surveillance for major events taking place in LA led to the expansion of surveillance programs that had lasting effects. The 1984 Olympics, which were held in LA, led to investments into military equipment and staffing that “can be traced directly to issues we face as a city today,” according to a NOlympics spokesperson.

As of June 2024, Topanga Mall will be the first location to install ALPRs and share its camera feeds with city police. The program is expected to be fully operational by 2027.

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