News
5/18/2007
11:20 AM

Wi-Fi Hits The Hard Streets Of South-Central L.A.

New video surveillance system cuts crime as gang members look over their shoulders.




Protect and serve: Officers observe video feeds of the Jordan Downs public housing district from the LAPDs South East division station.
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Protect and serve: Officers observe video feeds of the Jordan Downs public housing district from the LAPDs South East division station.

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Located in the center of Watts, featured in the movie Menace II Society, and notorious as the home turf of the Grape Street Crips gang, the Jordan Downs housing project comprises the meanest of Los Angeles' mean streets, a place where the police and criminals have been engaged in open warfare for years. It's not uncommon for LAPD patrol cars responding to fake 911 calls to find themselves fired upon by gang members in the 700-unit public housing complex in South Central L.A.

That's starting to change, thanks in part to a Wi-Fi video surveillance system installed earlier this year by Motorola. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the system includes Axis Communications video cams mounted on light poles around the development, Motorola Motomesh multiradio wireless broadband access points, and a multiscreen command center inside the LAPD's Southeast Substation, a few blocks away. Patrol cars eventually will be equipped with mobile video feeds so that officers can access live transmissions on the road.

Residents of Jordan Downs check out the new technology in their backyard.
(click image for larger view)


Residents of Jordan Downs check out the new technology in their backyard.

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The police have long sought ways to reduce the gang activity, drug dealing, and lawlessness that pervade the housing project. One way is through court-ordered injunctions that make it illegal for gang members to loiter, congregate, drink in public, and carry weapons. The surveillance system, which includes networking equipment and manpower donated by Motorola, adds technical innovation to that intensive enforcement approach.

After the cameras were installed, major crime in Jordan Downs dropped 32% in the first two months, compared with the same period a year ago, said LAPD Chief William Bratton at the system's unveiling in March.

Earlier this month, I rode along with Sgt. Deana Stark of the LAPD on a tour of Jordan Downs to see the new cameras. Drab beige two-story buildings with barred windows and doors are set in rows with sidewalks running between them. A few residents eyed the police cruiser as it crawled down 103rd Street. A toddler stopped to wave, and Stark rolled down her window to say hello.

"It looks peaceful enough now," she said as we moved on, "but these people are basically imprisoned in their houses [by the gangs]. They're stuck."


Data at your fingertips: officers can view video feeds of Joran Downs from their vehicles.
(click image for larger view)


Data at your fingertips: officers can view video feeds of Joran Downs from their vehicles.

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So far, the camera network hasn't provided direct evidence to convict anyone of a crime, but it's clearly a deterrent. Not only has crime declined in Jordan Downs, but there's been a spillover effect in adjacent neighborhoods, where street crime is down as well.

"People act differently when they think they're being watched," said Stark. "Eventually they'll get the sense that they just can't do that kind of stuff in their neighborhood anymore."

Community support for the network is strong, according to Stark. A world away from the well-kept boulevards of Anaheim, where Wi-Fi is being deployed for use by local residents, the Jordan Downs network represents the potential for wireless technology to bring positive change to some of America's least-advantaged citizens.

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Motorola's Motomesh Network at Jordan Downs

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