Privately Owned Public Camera Network

By Carlton Purvis, Published Aug 29, 2013, 12:00am EDT

Grant funding is drying up, but the need for technology is not. Cities are getting creative when it comes to finding new ways to fund surveillance systems. Some are looking at adopt-a-camera programs or leasing systems. But more often, they are combing public funds with money from grants or local associations to buy a system owned by the city.

In the case of one California city, however, the local business associations funded the entire system, making it a privately owned, public surveillance system. This raises very serious questions about fair contracting and the use of the system. In this note, we dig into the details and issues.

Background

The Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and Downtown Long Beach Associates, the local business associations paid $300,000 to Platt Security for a surveillance system that would be monitored by the Long Beach Police Department. 

“The cameras will be compatible with the Long Beach Police Department’s Long Beach Common Operating Picture System (LB COPS). LB COPS allows LBPD to tap into a network of public and private cameras throughout the city to aide in capturing and convicting criminals,” according to a press release from the visitor’s bureau [link no longer available].

The LB COPS network already includes more than 400 cameras across the city. Long Beach police only have “a few dozen” of its own cameras, according to the L.A. Times. 

What We Know About the System

The system is comprised 60 cameras (a mix of fixed and PTZ) that will be integrated with 23 existing cameras. It will run Genetec software operate on a KBC wireless network

The system was put up for private bid to companies selected by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, however because the organization is a private entity, those bidding documents and contract are not public information. 

The integrator was willing to provide basic information about the system, but declined further details, noting the contract was private, and he was asked not to disclose the terms of the contract. 

The system will be “gifted” to the LBPD, but it is owed by private entities. Installation will begin September 1 and officials say it will be the largest camera deployment the city has ever seen. 

Issues

Technical 

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The integrator, Platt Security, run by a former Long Beach police detective, seems to be your typical local dealer. They specialize in guard services and installing Honeywell and GE Interlogix alarm systems, but how qualified are they to install higher-end systems or a citywide mesh system? Indeed, because of the non public contracting process, it is likely no one will ever know what criteria was used, what similar scale references were checked or whether there were lower cost / better alternatives.

Contractual 

The contract and scope of work for this public system will indefinitely remain private. Police have said in the past that they would only access private cameras live if there was an ongoing incident, but where does this system fall? Public or private? It is owned by private entities, but operated by a public one. 

The practice raises many questions, including what rules apply to the system surrounding use, storage and access. Would city guidelines apply (only viewing where a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy) or would these cameras be exempt from typical 4th Amendment protections? How long would they store video? Would storage regulations even apply? Is the police department or the business association in charge of maintenance? Cameras are only effective when they are maintained.

The closed RFP process of this project leaves the city to the mercy of what the Visitors Bureau decides to provide based on whatever specifications it decided. Even for governments the contracting process is not perfect, but they at least have transparent guidelines for vetting bidders and cost analysis that can be examined. 

The Long Beach visitors bureau declined comment on the purchase saying, “Thank you for reaching out to us, but we currently do not need any more publicity then what we currently have.”

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