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Vast Long Beach video camera system aids police work

August 14, 2012 |  2:40 pm

Long beach chiefs

Long Beach police now have eyes everywhere.

Battling a worsening budget and seeking to make Long Beach one of the safest big cities, Police Chief Jim McDonnell is turning to more than 400 cameras citywide as a solution.

While the city has a few dozen cameras across the community, McDonnell has set up a system to tap into hundreds of privately owned cameras that are part of the city’s streetscape. The new program synchronizes law enforcement data with real-time video feeds from parks, beaches, business corridors and even some retail centers.

Dubbed Long Beach Common Operating Picture, or Long Beach COP, McDonnell and Mayor Bob Foster unveiled the “state-of-the-art program” this week.

“We are using every technology advantage to improve safety in this city. Long Beach officers will now know even before they arrive what potential threats they face,” McDonnell said. “It will help us to respond to crimes better and prevent other crimes.”

With Long Beach experiencing a 40-year low in serious crimes, McDonnell said he is looking for every advantage he can get. 

The chief said it won’t be a case of "big brother is watching" because a central control center will enlist the private cameras only when they know an incident is unfolding in a certain area.

"We are not running a camera monitoring center, but it will allow us see what happened or is occurring on a street or intersection," McDonnell said. "It is designed to make us more efficient in combating crime and to promote greater community and officer safety."

McDonnell said when crimes unfold, a quick examination of camera recordings in the moments before and after can reveal vital clues or suspects. He said London’s extensive camera system helped capture terrorist bombers there.

Private security cameras already are connected to their owners electronically, and the department has been able to access such feeds when needed, he said.

The cameras are connected to a city operations center with computer terminals that can access an array of databases from the Justice Department, DMV and other agencies, allowing staff to chase down the slimmest of clues, such as a partial license plate in a bank robbery getaway, he said.

The center also can receive live feeds of pursuits from department helicopters. The system will be used heavily during crisis situations and on Friday and Saturday nights when calls and incidents tend to peak, McDonnell said.

He said the center and new technologies were paid for by federal grants; he hopes one day to download images from the system to officers in their patrol cars.

The program debuts as the city and department face a budget squeeze that could slash the police agency's budget by nearly $9 million.

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— Richard Winton

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Photo: Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, right. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times.

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