Lemon Grove, Calif., Rolls Out Pilot Surveillance Program

Law enforcement officials have chosen Lemon Grove for a video surveillance program called “SafeSanDiego - Lemon Grove.” Some residents expressed concerns about privacy, while others welcomed the extra set of eyes.

by Karen Pearlman, The San Diego Union-Tribune / October 8, 2019
Shutterstock/Bk87

(TNS) — The San Diego County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department has chosen Lemon Grove, Calif., for a video surveillance program called “SafeSanDiego - Lemon Grove.”

The department says the cameras will improve law enforcement by reinforcing community policing, improve officer safety, shorten investigations and help it gain insight into previously unreported crimes.

While some residents expressed concerns about privacy at a meeting last week, others said they welcomed the extra set of eyes.

The department chose Lemon Grove for the pilot program not because of crime rates, which are at a 20-year low, but because of its small geographic area and force of just 16 deputies assigned to the city, Lemon Grove Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Rand said.

If the program is successful, the sheriff’s department says it may roll out more cameras in other parts of the county.

“We’re taking baby steps to see how the community responds to it,” Rand said.

After doing more public outreach about the plan, Rand said the department plans to go high-tech by the start of 2020 via security equipment purchased from Genetec, a Montreal-based company specializing in video surveillance.

The company uses a cloud-based video monitoring service that allows customers to view live and recorded video from their laptop, tablet or smartphone any time of day. If the department receives a call for service in one of the areas where the cameras are set up, law enforcement officers will be able to monitor the video and will be better able to respond to an incident, Rand said.

The equipment will also allow officers to grab screenshots and share detailed photos of possible suspects with other law enforcement agencies and officials.

“There are going to be a bunch of benefits,” Rand said. “The biggest of all is that it will improve officer safety. We won’t be looking at these cameras until there is a call for service. Then, the deputies will be able to pull up a live video feed and have a little more knowledge about a situation and be better able to respond. Is there a person with a gun? Is there a fight happening? How do we respond and which officers do we need?”

The department’s plan is to share the feed of four cameras already in place and used by the city to monitor activity at Promenade Park. The department also has a camera up in the back parking lot of the Lemon Grove substation on Main Street, but it is not set up for official use.

Rand said that other cameras using Genetec technology will be located at Firefighters Park (the city’s skate park), at City Hall, at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Broadway, and at participating businesses yet to be named. Rand said the camera on the street would not and could not be used as a “red-light camera” or as a speed tracker intended on nailing drivers who break the law.

Rand said he is hoping more businesses that already use video equipment inside and outside of their stores will join them, as well as Metropolitan Transit System and residents who have installed video security systems such as Ring and Nest.

Similar video monitoring systems are already used in Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta and New York, and have had great success in reducing crime, Rand said, though he said those cities use live-time feeds that are monitored by officials 24 hours a day.

Rand rolled out the plan to the City Council last week, then shared it with the community two days later at a “Coffee with a Cop” program at a local Starbucks.

“Even with the reassurance that the cameras would not be used for enforcing the law at red lights, and that they’d only be used to gather needed information to protect and serve the community, I can’t get past the word ‘surveillance,’ ” Lemon Grove resident Jim Ellis said. “Knowing that corrupt leaders could misuse such powers, the Founding Fathers, with the fourth amendment, limited the powers of the government to ensure the privacy of the people was not violated.”

Ellis said that while the plan to use video surveillance “sounds good on the surface to gather information on the ‘bad guys,’” he said he wondered who will make sure the ability to watch live feeds “doesn’t grow out of hand, ultimately controlling and harming the people?”

Sharon Jones, a Lemon Grove resident for 33 years and owner of The Grove Grinder for 20, said she wanted the department to put a camera at her business on Olive Street.

“It wouldn’t bother me at all if it was in the alleyway where we are,” she said. “There are so many drug dealers that hang out in the area. That’s why we close early, mostly at 5 o’clock, at 6 on Friday and at 4 on Sunday. It’s scary to be out there at night. It has really gotten bad the last few years. With cameras, the sheriff’s could check it on their iPhones and get there faster.”

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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