Dual Vision

Surveillance cameras in a Los Angeles low-income housing community offer more than just a watchful eye.

by / February 2, 2006
The 700-unit Jordan Downs housing development in the lower east side of Los Angeles has one of the highest crime rates per capita in the city.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) plans to install 12 surveillance cameras throughout Jordan Downs and along the streets adjacent to Jordan High School. The goal is to create a safe environment for local students and law-abiding residents of the housing development.

But the cameras aren't just about surveillance -- they will provide wireless Internet access to more than 2,000 residents of Jordan Downs in an effort to bridge the digital divide.

"I think this is a case where people are looking beyond the obvious, and instead of looking at cameras and stopping there, they tried to look for ways to bring benefits to the public we serve," said Alan Skobin, vice president of the Los Angeles Police Commission. "While not everyone will use wireless Internet access, it provides wonderful connectivity to those who do."

The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Commander Charlie Beck, assistant to the director of the LAPD's Office of Operations, explained that the LAPD used the same funding source to deploy a closed-circuit television project in MacArthur Park, noticeably decreasing crime in the area. In fact, in 2005 the park was recognized for having the highest reduction of crime statistics per resident in the United States. Beck said the DOJ wanted something similar for the new project.

"It was looking for a law enforcement technology based solution to crime and disorder in public housing," Beck said.

Mesh Needed Technology
The Jordan Downs project -- which began in December 2005 and will be completed in summer 2006 -- is a four-way partnership between the DOJ, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), LAPD and Motorola.

The DOJ administered the $750,000 grant from HUD to get the ball rolling. Motorola donated $1 million in equipment and labor, as well as the expertise for camera installation and creation of the mesh network the cameras will form. The network will carry streaming video from the cameras to police cars while serving as the backbone for residents' wireless Internet access.

The project will use Motorola's new Motomesh boxes, which hang on light poles or are affixed to buildings. Inside the boxes are four radios -- two standards-based 802.11 Wi-Fi radios and two of the company's Mesh Enabled Architecture (MEA) mobile broadband radios -- which function as part of four separate networks.

The two standard 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi radios serve separate purposes -- one provides public Internet access and the other is dedicated exclusively to city employees. The remaining two 4.9 GHz radios are designated for public safety agencies.

Each radio becomes a router/repeater capable of sending and receiving, as well as providing a "hop" for information traversing the network from one radio to the next.

"The city deploys a single box, or a single set of boxes, and each unit has the ability to provide a network for these different groups," said Peter Stanforth, vice president and director of technology for the Mesh Networks group at Motorola. "They can be completely segregated from each other, if they so desire, or there can be some degree of interoperability."

The housing for the surveillance cameras contains room for a single radio that securely communicates over the mesh network, completely separate from the Wi-Fi radios granting public access.

Camera radios communicate with each other by hopping data to an intelligent access point -- or wireless gateway -- that has a wireless router on one side for data generated through the mesh network and a cable or fiber on the other side that connects the access point to the Internet.

Motorola's involvement in the project is not strictly commercial, according to Beck, who explained that the company also plans to donate computers to residents in the community to give them the means to access the Internet.

He added that other local businesses also plan to donate.

"The plan is to give people an opportunity to invest in a piece of the community that's been widely ignored for many, many years," said Beck.

The Missing Link
"Access to the Internet is becoming more and more mainstream, or the way mainstream America accesses services and information," said Beck. "People who do not have access become technologically stranded from the rest of the world. That's the cycle we're trying to avoid."

Though the LAPD hopes the cameras will effectively lower crime, Beck acknowledged that some residents have expressed concerns about being constantly monitored.

"We hope the enhanced safety and access to the Internet will help alleviate concerns and show that this is a partnership and not just a means for police to keep track of what's going on -- that it's more a collaboration between us and the community to make Jordan Downs a better place to live," said Beck.

The point is to help law-abiding citizens stay safe, according to Skobin.

"There are a lot of members of the community who are good, respectful people just trying to raise their families," Skobin said. "We wanted to do what we can to give them the opportunity to do that and not be terrorized by the criminals."

He added that online training and education could greatly help the low-income residents of Jordan Downs. Although the LAPD will use the cameras to reduce crime in the area affecting junior-high and high-school students, wireless access will provide another avenue for adults to gain education. "What we really hope when we start having success is that the community as a whole -- and I know we'll never get everybody because people with criminal intent don't like to be monitored -- embraces them and accepts them," said Beck.

Though a relatively new concept, Stanforth said he predicts that incorporating public wireless access with public safety security systems will become one of the more common options of deployment in the years ahead.

He acknowledged that it's difficult to economically justify a public Wi-Fi system and expensive to deploy a dedicated public safety system, but finding a way to do both makes the Jordan Downs project more appealing.

Beck said combining two goals into one provides the missing link to a community apart.

"We're hoping that with good law enforcement and technological ways to augment law enforcement, we can stabilize the area enough so people can begin to thrive," he said. "We think access to the Internet can do that."
Sherry Watkins Contributing Writer