Livingston OKs cameras to fight serious crimes

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 15, 2013 

LIVINGSTON — With graffiti, vandalism and other gang-related offenses on the rise, the Livingston Police Department is getting technical with its approach to fighting crime.

During a meeting Tuesday night, the City Council approved the purchase of a nearly $30,000 security camera system that's made up of three cameras equipped with infrared technology. Two of those cameras have license plate-reading and zoom capabilities.

The cameras can be accessed by dispatchers on a live feed and are equipped with technology to alert authorities when a specific crime is taking place, such as graffiti.

The action passed on a 4-0 vote with Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza absent.

Police Chief Ruben Chavez said he expects the equipment to deter crime, help officers stop crimes in progress and provide detectives with leads to help with follow-up investigations.

Since the Livingston Police Department is down to 17 full-time officers from 19 in 2010, management is looking for ways to cut down on crime despite staffing cuts.

"This is another way that we're showing that we're using technology to enhance our staffing levels," Chavez said, adding that the security cameras will be added to the department's existing network. The devices will only be used to deal with serious crimes, rather than issues such as minor traffic violations.

Though he doesn't want to be too specific about where the cameras will be installed, Chavez does say "they'll be put in strategic locations where there are high incidents of violent crimes."

Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra, who works in the information technology field, said the equipment is an exciting addition to the department. He met with Chavez recently to discuss the idea.

"I'm a technology guy, so I think anytime you can put technology to work, it's a good thing," he said.

Samra said the cameras, which double as license plate readers, can notify authorities if a stolen car passes by and collect valuable information if a crime is committed nearby.

Only the Livingston Police Department will have access to the data collected by the cameras, Samra said. After three months, irrelevant information will be destroyed.

"I'm also a privacy advocate, too," he noted.

The equipment will be paid for through municipal facilities fees and police impact fees. The cameras will be installed and configured by Quick PC Support.

A few miles down Highway 99, the Atwater Police Department implemented similar technology when it put five license plate readers to use last year.

Lt. Sammy Joseph of the Atwater Police Department said he's found them to be a useful tool.

"It's a great system," he said. "It is valuable."

Most crime categories have declined in Livingston from 2011 to 2012.

Homicides were one of the few categories that increased in 2012, according to data from the Livingston Police Department. No homicides were reported in 2011, but there were two last year.

There was a slight increase in aggravated assaults, to 19 in 2012 from 17 in 2011. Five of last year's incidents involved a shooting.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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