Two new cameras peer down at the Second Street Promenade from atop the Grand Central Art Center in downtown Santa Ana's Artists Village. Workers recently installed the HAL-looking devices that are visible to anyone who turns their gaze upward. But the cameras aren't providing private surveillance feeds; they're a part of an ever-expanding Santa Ana police department surveillance system that's now setting up in city-owned spots around downtown.
Surveillance in Santa Ana dates back to 2008, when police installed 48 cameras inside their own administration office. Two years later, the city contracted with Siemens Inc. who installed 53 cameras covering the Orange County Civic Center area, including the Main Library and Garfield Community Center. Santa Ana police also teamed with SureView Systems to secure video sharing with surrounding government and private agencies in the area whose cameras were installed by other companies.
The expansion of cameras into downtown Santa Ana came before city council last December. The so-called “Santa Ana Video Security Enhancement Program” passed quickly and unanimously at that time with police continuing a partnership with Siemens Inc. The new plan called for the installation of 60 strategically placed cameras throughout the city's historic downtown district as well as seven “Courtesy Communication Monuments.”
What the heck are those? Courtesy Communication Monuments are mounted eye-level 360 degree cameras with 911 and 411 call buttons, all provided for your courtesy, of course! The tab for the stepped-up surveillance of downtown set to wrap up by November 30 comes at a cost of $670,348. Additional revamps of Santa Ana Police Detention Center cameras pushed the agreement to $1.5 million in total.
The move come as homeless people continue to hang out in the Artists Village and comes in the wake of three high-profile killings this decade: the shooting of a young man in the Third Street parking structure, the beating death of Kim Pham, and the stabbing death of Nathan Alfaro this year. But the expansion doesn't end in downtown. In February, the Santa Ana city council approved four more cameras to be installed at the Santa Ana Police Detention Center while integrating existing city hall videos surveillance into the system. “This conversion effort will allow for all City Hall camera feeds to be shared with and viewed by the Police Department for investigative and proactive purposes,” the February staff report read. “The conversion will also be a step towards a completely standardized city-wide video security system including public, private and governmental partners.”
Santa Ana's expanding camera system comes at a time when Anaheim city council unanimously approved its police department's own plans for city-wide surveillance last week complete with command center monitoring and one-way speakers to shout orders at people. There's differences between the two plans, for now. “Currently, the Santa Ana Police Department does not monitor feeds in real time,” Santa Ana police spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna says. “Only motion activates recording, and it is stored for a determinate amount of time.”
Police hope the cameras will serve as a visual deterrence to criminal activity while providing video evidence for those who don't pay attention and commit crimes in full view. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California doesn't see Santa Ana's investment in a police surveillance system to be all that effective in its stated aims.
“Multiple studies have shown footage is really only used in prosecuting quality of life crimes, like urinating in public,” says Jennifer Rojas, community engagement and policy advocate with ACLU of Southern California. “These cameras don't result in a decrease of crimes and don't make police work any easier. That doesn't improve public safety.”