Most LAPD video cameras in downtown L.A. don't work
Most of the surveillance cameras installed in downtown Los Angeles as part of an effort to help police crackdown on crime have not been working for two years, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Times.
The cameras were installed over the last few years in a highly publicized partnership between local business groups, which purchased them, and the Los Angeles Police Department, which was meant to monitor and maintain them.
But officials said the majority of the cameras don't work. Some broke down and were never fixed. In the case of six cameras purchased to watch over Little Tokyo, LAPD officials admit they were never plugged into the police station's monitoring bank.
Frustration about the broken cameras has deepened in recent days after a string of stabbings on a block in Skid Row. In one case, a 53-year-old man died after being stabbed and beaten by more than half a dozen suspects. No arrests have been made.
A camera is located just above where the stabbings occurred, but officials said the device was not working properly.
“It is heartbreaking to see a network of cameras gifted to the LAPD sitting idle while perpetrators of violence get away with murder on our most dangerous streets, said Estela Lopez, the executive director of Central City East Assn., which donated 10 cameras to monitor areas of Skid Row in 2008 at a cost of $200,000. “Just when the demand on the missions and shelters is going up, we need to use every tool we can to keep violence from ripping this community apart.”
LAPD officials acknowledged the department has not been properly maintaining or using the three dozen or so downtown cameras.
One problem: Officers were not properly trained on how to use the camera system and ended up in some cases breaking it, according to police and business officials. Officers are supposed to monitor the cameras from a control room in the Central police station, using joysticks to manually pan, tilt and zoom the cameras. But the system frequently overheats because it was placed in a small closet-size room.
The department has struggled to attract a vendor who can regularly maintain the cameras.
“It's like buying a car without an extended warranty,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez Jr. “We know the reasons it doesn't work. Now we are trying to make it work.”
Perez said the department is now working to reactivate the cameras and vowed to better maintain the monitor and them. He said that while crime in downtown has been dropping in recent years, the cameras can be an important tool for officers.
-- Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton
Photo: The streets of downtown Los Angeles an during Art Walk on Jan.13. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times