Friday, July 11, 2008

OPD proposes surveillance camera system

The Oakland Police Department plans to pilot a new surveillance camera system in West Oakland. But the cameras will be part of a closed network that the community will not be able to access.

Nearly a year ago, the West Oakland Project Area Committee (“WOPAC”), an elected body of community volunteers who advise the city on redevelopment matters, recommended the City fund ten cameras for a year with $200,000 of redevelopment funds. The cameras, which had been requested by police lieutenant Paul Berlin, were envisioned as being movable cameras that could be used by both the police and civilians to view “hot-spot” intersections within the West Oakland project area and monitor possible criminal activity there. Lt. Berlin subsequently retired, the proposal disappeared into the bureaucracy for “evaluation,” and the funding remained earmarked but not approved by the City Council.

On July 9, 2008, Lt. Freddie Hamilton and Sgt. Ron Elders of OPD, Andrew Hopkins of Finance & Management and an OPD technician approached the WOPAC to present OPD’s new vision for use of security cameras. Declaring the previously proposed system as ineffective due to the lack of funding for staff to monitor the cameras, poor resolution on the cameras that had been proposed, and experiences in other communities, the team proposed an alternate system modeled on systems used in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. The proposed system would use very high resolution cameras to facilitate identification of suspects, ability to read license plates, and positive recognition of drugs and weapons. The cameras would be able to be controlled by police officers remotely, without lag or delay. Two types of cameras would be used: some fixed, others easily moveable. The cameras would record images that would be stored for seven to 14 days. Four staff members would be funded who would be dedicated to monitoring the cameras. The goal is to implement the pilot by March 2009.

The cameras, however, would not be accessible by community groups or the general public. They would be part of a dedicated wireless network, not the internet. In Sgt. Elders’ words, “DOJ would cut us off” if the public had access to the cameras. Merchants would be encouraged to sponsor other cameras, but could not control them.

If the pilot is successful and the program is implemented city-wide, the cost will be $5.8MM, with $800,000 in annual recurring costs. $2.5MM would be spent to turn the Eastmont Police Station into an electronic monitoring center. A WiMax network would be built to transmit the video at an initial cost of $3.0MM and an annual cost of $300,000. The four new staff required to monitor the system would cost $330,189 per year.

WOPAC members expressed concern that public input should be encouraged to determine placement of the security cameras. The proposed locations, marked by yellow “C”s, appear on a map provided by OPD. Lt. Hamilton volunteered to return to the WOPAC regularly with updates on the camera deployment, location and effectiveness. Evaluation of the effectiveness of the system would be formally conducted a year following implementation.

On a motion by Bruce Beasley, the WOPAC voted unanimously to support OPD’s proposal, with an invitation to OPD to return quarterly or as needed to report on progress of the initiative.