At last Monday’s Public Safety Commission meeting, Public Safety and other Weho city staff members presented a substitute “safety camera” plan to surprised commission members- but is their proposal really about safety?
Many will remember that the West Hollywood City Council passed an ordinance last year authorizing the funding and installation of surveillance cameras at specific locations throughout the city, and charged the Public Safety Commission with assisting city staff in picking the vendor for those cameras. Members of the commission had originally surfaced the idea over two years ago as a reaction to the public outcry following the vicious assault of resident Kirk Doffing on Memorial Day. That crime remains unsolved, and many have speculated that surveillance cameras would have identified the suspects.
Public Safety staff allegedly thwarted and delayed the progress of implementing surveillance camera policy for many months, and finally City Council was forced to bring the item to a vote on its own, since staff neglected to add it to their agenda following its unanimous approval by the Public Safety Commission. After approval by council, many more months of delays occurred while staff worked through the lengthy RFP process to select a company that would lay the specialized cable down Santa Monica Boulevard, and then another RFP process (assisted by a commission sub-committee) to finally select the company that would install and operate the cameras. The cable has now been laid and a camera installation vendor was chosen- all that remains to finish the project is the installation of the cameras.
However, city staff has now apparently decided- without first consulting the Public Safety Commission- that the surveillance cameras should instead be implemented as part of the revamping of the decorative street lighting which the city is purchasing from SoCal Edison. The new lighting will apparently feature social media components and include cameras which will track autos and pedestrians and monitor customers who enter private businesses. (Who is going to be watching the footage? City Hall staff??)
They have now also decided that the original surveillance cameras, which were almost ready for implementation, should be completely scrapped, and that another months-long RFP should be conducted to find a different camera vendor which will integrate with the other spy features of the light poles. The streetlight project is anticipated to take many years to complete, delaying the installation of safety cameras yet again.
Does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing at Weho City Hall? Why was this information not included during the original discussion about surveillance cameras and the recent RFP?
You should have seen the look of shock on the commission members’ faces as they listened to this news! They obviously were surprised, and some were even visibly upset as they heard the shocking news of more delays. Some were probably irritated that they had not been informed nor given the opportunity for input in this decision. It seemingly had already been decided by city staff.
At Keep Weho Safe, we are concerned about the privacy considerations and lack of public discussion about the “Big Brother” features of these “smart” light poles which will be watching people in their daily lives and have nothing to do with crime or safety. These cameras are not being proposed to solve crimes- the crime solving aspect was almost an afterthought! We want the best crime deterrent and crime solving technology available, but this kind of proposal, with major privacy concerns, warrants a thorough and open public discussion. Is city staff trying to sneak this in under the public’s nose?
This is yet another example of the Public Safety Commission being railroaded by Public Safety staff at City Hall. It’s time the commission used the tools at their disposal as a body whose duty it is to advise city staff and city council on matters of policy- not the other way around. A quick read of the duties given to them in the city code clearly shows what they must do to be effective. The commission just has to use their authority to get back in the engineer’s seat and grab the throttle.