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Wire Pirates Knock Out San Bernardino Surveillance, Street Lights

Hundreds of street lights are dark all over the city due to stolen wiring, as are many of the pole-mounted police cameras. Of the 95 cameras throughout the city, only four are operational, officials report.

An aerial view of San Bernardino, Calif.
(TNS) — In Hollywood, it's lights, cameras, action. In San Bernardino, they're promising action over the city's street lights and surveillance cameras.

Hundreds of lights are dark all over the city due to stolen wiring. Pole-mounted police cameras are so decrepit, only a few are able to transmit images. To quote a Bob Dylan lyric, "Everything is broken."

Let's start with the cameras. They went up on traffic poles and other vantage points around San Bernardino starting in 2009, Police Chief Darren Goodman told the City Council last week.

There are 95 cameras.

"Currently," Goodman reported, "only four of those cameras work."

Uh, 91 out of 95 cameras are dead? I hope no criminals follow my columns or this might spark a crime wave.

(Then again, my goal is to serve all segments of the community. If you're a bad guy, you might be thinking, "About time dis crummy newspaper printed sum good nooze.")

Why don't the cameras work? The manufacturer no longer makes parts for the 15-year-old cameras, and officials never had "a self-sustaining plan" to maintain or upgrade cameras, said Goodman, who was hired less than two years ago.

Goodman said 15 of the cameras are downtown but didn't indicate how many, if any, are working. He did say nobody monitors the live footage.

Councilmember Sandra Ibarra reacted in alarm.

"I'm pretty shocked at the news that of 95 cameras, only four are working," Ibarra said. She recalled that the city had contracted a few years ago with a company to maintain them.

The city halted that nearly $100,000-a-year contract in 2021, Goodman said, and with good reason.

Because no parts were available to fix broken cameras, the chief said, "All they were doing was coming out and cleaning the lenses."

For 100 grand, no less. What were they polishing the lenses with, truffle oil?

Goodman and City Manager Charles Montoya said they will return to the council in the near future with parameters for a new, better camera system and for civilian staffing to monitor them. Chino police have such staffing, Goodman noted.

San Bernardino's preferred cameras would have 360-degree panning and software that would allow for quick searches. Downtown would be the initial focus, with annual expansion to other parts of the city.

Goodman said the new cameras would display city logos to let people know police are watching and thus deter crime.

Bad guys, moaning: " Chee, we t'ought dis was gonna be a positive article!"

Sorry, bad guys.

Now, back to the street lights.

Some downtown business owners brought up that problem during the Jan. 31 council meeting. Darkness might be making the area less safe, they said.

The Fourth Street boba shop Viva La Boba had been broken into twice in two weeks, co-owner Tansu Philip said.

With so many broken street lights downtown, "we're doing business in the dark," complained the shop's other owner, David Friedman. He'd submitted 21 service requests through the city's app.

Marco Romero, owner of The Barbers Club, said a break-in that week at his E Street shop cost barber students the tools they'd invested in to learn their trade.

Some of the ire was directed at Councilmember Theodore Sanchez, who represents downtown and the west side.

"I ask for people's patience," Sanchez responded. "A lot of this is copper being stolen."

As an example, he said, new street lights had been installed on the west side. As a deterrent to copper thieves, concrete had been poured into the crevices to prevent anyone from getting at the wiring. Nice try.

"A week later," Sanchez said, "they were out."

Montoya agreed: "It's not like replacing a light bulb. It's replacing the entire fixture. It's not a cheap fix."

He'd signed an emergency purchase order to spend up to $100,000, the limit of his purchase authority without council action, to repair and replace lights downtown and on transit corridors.

Councilmember Fred Shorett said he'd already noticed a positive difference.

"Driving in today," Shorett said during the meeting, which began at 3 p.m., "I noticed lights on that I haven't seen on in a long time. But turn them on at 5 p.m., not at 3."

I left the meeting at 6 p.m., driving a block south on E Street and hanging a right on Fourth. Noticing that my drive was on darkened streets, I pulled into the Regal Cinema lot and got out to take photos.

More than half the lamps around just that one intersection were dark.

As of Wednesday, one week later, they were still out.

"The street lights are not fixed. They're anywhere from cracked and broken to stripped at the bottom," Friedman told me. "Up and down Fourth Street, up and down E Street."

Repairs were delayed due to the heavy rain, as public works had more immediate concerns about street flooding and flashing traffic signals. But street light repair "is imminent," promised city spokesperson Jeff Kraus.

The scope of the problem is, frankly, staggering.

"You asked how many street lights were or are out," Kraus said when we spoke Wednesday. "Citywide we're estimating about 700."

Holy moley. But it's not just a local problem. In the city of L.A., the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and El Sereno have more than 3,700 broken lights, the Times reported.

"Copper wire theft is back," Kraus said. People have been breaking into lamps' access points, cutting wires and pulling them out to sell the copper.

As fixtures are replaced, such as on Sixth Street, the lights are staying on 24/7 to keep the electrical wires "live," thus deterring thieves from cutting them, Kraus explained. That's why Shorett noticed lights on during the day.

Montoya has requested proposals from private firms on repairing and replacing lights in the rest of the city, with a Feb. 14 deadline to respond. That job may approach $500,000 and will require a council vote.

The city will explore how to "harden" the circuits to make them tamper-proof, Kraus said, and may extend a pilot program to install solar-powered lights, which have no copper wire and have not been vandalized.

At least as of press time.

©2024 the San Bernardino County Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.