La Puente steps up surveillance to fight crime, but some see racial profiling and over-policing – San Gabriel Valley Tribune


A plan by La Puente leaders to use federal COVID-19 relief money to install 16 security cameras in the popular La Puente park and around 100 automated license plate readers along major roads has sparked concerns criticism from some residents and activists concerned about privacy, racial profiling, and harassment of the homeless.

A plan by La Puente leaders to use federal COVID-19 relief money to install 16 surveillance cameras in the popular La Puente park, Ring security cameras in small businesses and around 100 license plate readers. Automated registration along major highways has drawn criticism from some residents and activists concerned about privacy, racial profiling and harassment of the homeless.

Supporters say they just want the new crime-fighting measures.

The strategy includes the provision small businesses with City-funded Ring surveillance cameras if they agree to provide footage to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for any investigation, which is patrolling the city.

“This is just one tool that we are offering to businesses to help tackle some of the crimes that are happening in our community and nationally,” said La Puente Mayor Charlie Klinakis, referring to Ring cameras and citing complaints from business owners regarding the homeless. gathering in front of their businesses and thefts, burglaries and vandalism.

“It’s personal for me when it comes to these drive-by shootings,” the mayor said. “We must use all possible tools to apprehend these individuals and get them off the streets. “

Throughout the pandemic, violent crime rates have increased in many U.S. cities, including La Puente. Since the start of this year, the town and surrounding communities such as Basset, Valinda and Cité de l’Industrie have seen an upsurge in shootings, mainly due to clashes between rival gangs, authorities said.

City officials point to the sobering spike in violence as part of the reason for the surveillance plan’s approval – yet some residents argued, including to city council at a meeting in late April, that the solution is not more policing but rather more holistic approaches to crime prevention.

“I don’t like the idea of ​​turning La Puente into a surveillance state via Ring cameras, (other) camera systems and license plate readers,” Rita Greenspon, who lives in the community.

“It seems like another way to fight crime after the fact, rather than investing in the community to create restorative and preventative solutions,” she said. “Why don’t we focus instead on maintaining the health, homes and well-being of our community? “

Anthony Orozco, organizer of La Puente Mutual Aid, stands at La Puente Park on Friday, June 25, 2021. Orozco and his group opposed the city’s plan to use federal COVID relief money to fund surveillance of law enforcement. (Photo by Keith Durflinger, Contributing Photographer)

Days earlier, several dozen community members and local activists marched about a mile from La Puente Municipal Park to Town Hall to criticize the surveillance plan with protesters chanting slogans such as “COVID help, no more police! “

Anthony Orozco, a 25-year-old organizer with La Puente Mutual Aid, an advocacy group that supports the needs and helps change conditions for the city’s working class. He helped organize the march. He said he was used to being watched by law enforcement although he hadn’t done anything illegal.

Growing up in La Puente, where 80% of residents are Latinos, Orozco, who is of Mexican descent, said he was pulled over by sheriff’s deputies on several occasions while driving his battered Honda Civic. MPs always asked if he had drugs on him, he said, and they always let him go without a quote.

Residents and local activists marched to La Puente Town Hall on April 25, 2021 to oppose the city’s COVID-19 relief spending plan that aims to expand surveillance of the forces of the order in the city. (Courtesy of Entraide La Puente)

Orozco, now a college and vocational counselor at a high school in La Puente, said he heard similar stories from students, most of whom live in low-income areas of the city. They told him about deputies looking for weapons or drugs by emptying their backpacks on the way to or from school, he said.

“I think La Puente city council scares its residents all the time,” he said. “They treat the city like (people) who have to be watched, who have to be watched.”

City Manager Bob Lindsey, a former sheriff’s department commander who unsuccessfully ran for the sheriff in 2018, said he was concerned about such allegations of traffic stops and student searches.

“I think in any profession you’re going to find someone who is doing something wrong,” Lindsey said. “If a member is doing something wrong, then it has to be dealt with. MPs shouldn’t stop students and check their backpacks, if that’s true, and we don’t know that’s the case.

Lindsey encouraged anyone harassed by MPs to file a complaint with the ministry, “so we can get to the bottom of it and put it right if it’s wrong.”

Orozco said he was concerned the surveillance cameras could increase suspicion and harassment of the city’s most vulnerable, such as low-income residents, immigrants, undocumented residents and the homeless.

Anita Morales, 25, who grew up in La Puente and is also a member of La Puente Mutual Aid, said she understands the fear of violent crime in her community. She said she knew what it was like to avoid going out for fear “of being in the wrong place at the wrong time”, fear of being killed in a shootout.

But increased surveillance and more policing, she said, has not and will not protect her or her neighbors.

“These cameras would not bring back that person’s life,” Morales said. “It’s about trying to get to the root of the problem, to find out why this violence is happening. We believe that addressing the root causes would help prevent violence from happening. “

Puente Mutual Aid and other local advocacy groups are calling for shifting some spending from law enforcement to health and social programs, rent relief and mortgages, more funding for the Office’s diversion programs. district attorney and a gang intervention program in the city.

Mayor Charlie Klinakis talks about the city’s plan to use federal stimulus money to expand police surveillance in La Puente on Friday, June 25, 2021. (Photo by Keith Durflinger, Contributing Photographer)

The funding for the surveillance plan, approved by the city council on May 25, comes from a federal stimulus plan intended to deal with the health and economic problems caused by the pandemic. The city receives nearly $ 7.5 million.

City officials also plan to use the money to fund youth sports leagues, renovate city council chambers and its outdated audio-visual system, and support the local food bank.

Klinakis, who owns a construction company, said all of the small business owners he spoke with were in favor of receiving the Ring surveillance cameras, agreeing to make the footage available to the sheriff’s department.

But such unhindered access between law enforcement and private companies concerns Mohammad Tajsar, a senior lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Southern California. It monitors the use of police surveillance.

Private security firms such as Ring, which is owned by Amazon, are taking advantage of residents’ fear of increased crime in the neighborhood, he said. And he calls such public-private partnerships a “sham” given the lack of evidence that cameras actually reduce crime. There are similar programs in several other cities in California.

“The causes of crime are innumerable and have nothing to do with increasing private surveillance,” Tajsar said.

Lindsey believes that while police have the right to view the video, store owners have no choice but to hand it over, which protects them somewhat from reprisals from local gangs.

License plate readers, around 100 of them, will use the roads in and out of La Puente and its neighborhoods, Lindsey said. The town now owns one that it bought several years ago that is mounted on a sheriff’s patrol vehicle.

Each device takes hundreds of images per minute and compares the license plate sequences to a database. An agency can set when they want police alerted – six outstanding parking tickets can trigger a warning, or maybe a plaque related to an Amber alert or a stolen car.

The images are often stored in a database for criminal investigations as well. Members can see where the vehicles have been viewed by a reader. The sheriff’s department uses scanners in other towns in the county.

The existence of a mine of such data of drivers not involved in infractions or misdemeanors disturbs some.

“I don’t want any more shots – I pray to God – but if we do (have) and we can catch one of these individuals with cameras in place, that will justify the whole system,” Klinakis said. .

The park’s 16 security cameras will be on lampposts.

The city had considered buying from the sheriff’s department, for $ 30,000, bicycles and an ATV for the patrollers. However, those options were scrapped amid community protests.

There were also plans to offer residents Ring cameras to install in their homes if they also allowed law enforcement to access the footage. Although the measure was dropped and faced opposition from groups like La Puente Mutual Aid, Klinakis said he hoped to use city funds in the future to continue this strategy.

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