The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), Century Station, has policing authority over portions of South Central Los Angeles County and provides contract services for the city of Lynwood, as well as law enforcement services for several unincorporated towns.
Covering a little more than 13 square miles, with a population of about 200,000, LASD’s Century Station deputies patrol some of the most challenging streets in the nation. Prostitution and drug use are common. Gunshots and gang violence are seemingly endemic, and successful solutions to reduce crime are hard to come by.
LASD staff has used a strategy that involves cutting-edge technology to bring about change for these communities. The results of this initiative have been truly impressive. The department has implemented an IP video surveillance system, a gunshot recognition system, license plate recognition (LPR) and in-field fingerprint scanning
into a comprehensive approach to policing.
The LASD’s success is exemplary. These combined technologies have had a huge impact on public safety, particularly in Lynwood.
Lynwood, which comprises about five square miles, is located between Compton and South Gate. It pays the LASD about $8.4 million annually to provide police services. The median household income is on the low end for Southern California, at $40,886, and it has a population of about 70,000, which includes a large immigrant component.
Over the past several years Lynwood has experienced a truly amazing reduction in crime. Although crime is down nationwide, one has to marvel at such striking success and wonder about the factors behind it. Local leaders attribute the reduction to a combination of community involvement and proactive policing strategies that include a heavy dose of cutting-edge technology. See sidebar (above, right) for some key statistics.
IP Video Surveillance Cameras
In the initial approach to a monumental crime problem, the LASD installed eight surveillance cameras in areas that had a high number of calls for service, particularly for violent crime. These first cameras were funded as a proof of concept through the Safe Cities program. The success led to additional installations that now total 34 cameras, with 10 additional installations planned in the near term.
Because of bandwidth, line-of-sight and other environmental limitations, the construction of a wireless network to support an IP video system posed numerous challenges. Among them, fiber-optic infrastructure is not available in Lynwood, requiring wireless technology that would support real-time, high-quality video (4CIF/30 FPS). The obstacles were addressed in the initial proof of concept, and the successful design was replicated in later installations.
Sgt. Chris Kovac, who oversaw the Lynwood IP video surveillance project, emphasizes that one of the most important factors in the success of a technology project is the selection of a vendor that has the skill and experience to accomplish what they promise.
In the Lynwood case, LASD put the project out for competitive bid. The successful bidder was Leverage Information Systems (LIS), a Washington-based company with an office in the area. Sgt. Kovac found that after the first installation, Leverage was able to replicate its initial design, which enabled Lynwood to expand its system easily.
Presently, all cameras are linked via a Firetide wireless mesh network to the Century Station dispatch center, where deputies can both view and control the cameras in real time. Although no one is assigned to continually monitor the cameras, the deputies use them as a response tool. They can later retrieve video to aid in criminal investigations. In fact, the IP video system is now a standard form of doing business in the city of Lynwood.
Crime 2000 2009
Homicides 12 2
Assaults with a Firearm 212 139
Rapes 28 11
Burglaries 479 298
In nearby unincorporated Willowbrook, LASD sought to deploy a gunshot recognition system due to the high incidence of firearms-related calls for service. After conducting some research, ShotSpotter was the vendor selected.
The technology requires deployment to occur in roughly 1 square mile increments. Sensors, which are essentially microphones, are installed at about 15 to 20 per square mile, depending on geography.
Once a gunshot occurs, the location of the gunshot sound is triangulated by the sensors. An alert is sent to the Century Station dispatch center, where a deputy receives notification of the alert and checks the computer terminal and a video display of the acoustics is generated. The software program allows for immediate playback of the gunshots so the deputy can verify the sound of the gunfire and dispatch deputies to respond.
The accuracy of the gunshot spotter is within a few meters. LASD deputies report that the system works well. One of the dispatching deputies interviewed stated that it’s routine to find spent casing at locations of alerts even when no one is present.
This system is so accurate that deputies can be immediately dispatched to shots fired, eliminating the wait time for 9-1-1 calls and permitting a rapid response to potential violent crime. It also provides an awareness of the specific time that a crime, such as a shooting, occurred.
License Plate Recognition
Another technology tool effectively deployed in Century Station, as well as elsewhere in L.A. County, is license plate recognition (LPR). LASD sought the ability to have both vehicles and fixed locations that read license plates.
After conducting extensive research, LASD selected PIPS, now a Federal Signal company, that was originally based in the UK. PIPS has provided LASD with mobile and fixed-location capability. Countywide, LASD has about 80 patrol cars equipped with LPR. The department also has multiple fixed locations in Century Station’s jurisdiction, including locations that address vehicle traffic associated with Lynwood.
The system design allows for real-time data checks that compare license plates against a wanted-person and vehicle database. In patrol cars with newer MDCs, this is accomplished using standard cellular technology. In older vehicles, the download occurs at a hotspot.
Sgt. Kovac reports numerous successes, both with live data and through checking LPR data for crimes that were reported at a later time. Recent results include the arrest of both a multiple murder suspect and a serial rapist.
In-Field Fingerprint Scanning
Yet another use of technology is the deployment of in-field identification via portable fingerprint scanning. LASD, again after significant research, acquired technology through Cogent, using BlueCheck for the field application.
Field deputies are issued BlueCheck scanners, which they use to verify identity when a person’s identification is questionable or not available. The deputy scans the print of a suspect, and an immediate search occurs through AFIS. Deputies on foot patrol have the same capability using their BlackBerry with Bluetooth. When a hit occurs, the deputy receives information that includes identifying information and the most recent booking photo and warrants.
Deputies report that they often only warn of scanning a detainee’s prints and, suddenly, previously reluctant suspects fess up their true names and DOBs.
One common thread to be aware of in the implementation of all of these technologies is the selection of the vendor/integrator. Quite a few vendors will promise the moon and not deliver. The selection of the vendor/integrator often defines the success of your project.
Successful integration of differing technologies can be extremely challenging. Having CCTV, LPR and ShotSpotter work in a coordinated fashion shows the need to select an integrator with experience of successfully implementing similar projects.
Although on a much larger scale with many greater challenges, the experience the Department of Homeland Security has had with the “virtual fence” along the southern border illustrates good intentions gone awry and the resulting waste of money on a project that did not receive adequate planning.
The principles remain the same for both large and small projects. Identify specifically what you want to achieve and conduct a detailed analysis of how it is to be accomplished. Then test it with a proof of concept in a real-world environment.
The effective use of emerging technologies is altering the landscape of policing and has been a true game changer in the fight against crime.
Capt. Jim Hellmold is the Century Station commander. He says that over a 20-year period Lynwood had experienced an average of 20 homicides per year. Several years ago, when Lynwood implemented its use of surveillance cameras and other related technologies, homicides and other violent crime plummeted. There were only two homicides in 2009. As this article was written, only two homicides had been reported in 2010. Capt. Hellmold added that they have numerous shootings and other crimes captured on video, and deputies regularly use the video as an investigative tool.
This reduction in crime is remarkable and did not happen by chance. It occurred because of engaged deputies and their use of technology. Deputies now receive feedback from crooks that they try to “stay out of Century Station’s area” because of the increased likelihood of being arrested.
A great deal can be learned from existing projects like those implemented by the LASD. Although circumstances will vary depending on the locale, most successful projects can be replicated, but only after due diligence based on your own research.
How do you fund it? The LASD’s Sgt. Kovac says, “funding is normally allocated for successful programs that demonstrate a visible and significant impact on crime.”
To obtain more information about the technology systems employed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in Lynwood, Calif., and other communities, please visit:
639 N. Rosemead Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91107
1108 Raymond St.
Anaheim, CA 92801
Leverage Information Systems
310 South Maple St.
Corona, CA 92880-6946
1060 Terra Bella Ave.
Mountain View, CA 94043-1881