Hundreds of security cameras will be added to seven parks and monitored by the Santa Ana Police Department in an attempt to combat vandalism, prostitution, gambling, and misuse of drugs and alcohol at city parks.
On the night of Aug. 29, two men were accused of beating a victim with a hammer and a skateboard at Centennial Regional Park. The victim was left in critical condition, and both men were arrested for attempted murder.
Less than a month later, 22-year- old Luis Diaz was killed in a fight that also took place at Centennial Regional Park.
During a council meeting in July, parents complained about Madison Park, which shares a fence with Madison Elementary School. They were worried for the safety of their children, especially during after-school events that took place after dark.
“It’s been five years of waiting for security cameras. How much longer do we have to wait?” asked citizen Abigail Alvarez, who spoke in regards to Madison Park.
To try to curb future violence, cameras are being added to Madison Park, Centennial Regional Park, Chepa’s Park, Windsor Park, Jerome Park, Memorial Park, and Santa Anita Park.
“Adding cameras gives the community an extra level of security. The idea of putting security cameras was to allow police, and Park and Rec to be able to monitor activity in the parks when we didn’t have staff there, and to see what was going on in certain times and areas. Park and Rec could then respond, as well as allow police to respond to problems we observe,” said Santa Ana Police Department District Commander Ken Gominsky.
However, some residents were uncomfortable about the constant supervision.“I get that safety is important, but do you really want someone watching you make out with your girlfriend in the park?” asked Candler Weinberg, who is a part-time student and part-time EMT.
Though the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) did not respond to requests for comment, they have posted multiple articles against the use of surveillance cameras.
In an article titled “What’s Wrong With Public Video Surveillance,” the ACLU argued there are no clear boundaries on where to draw the line on surveillance to protect American values, and to keep public closed circuit TV (CCTV) from evolving into “ a surveillance monster.” This leaves surveillance systems open to abuse, ranging from discriminatory targeting to voyeurism.
“Government-run video surveillance can radically alter the relationship between law enforcement and the public. By itself, pervasive video surveillance threatens privacy rights,” said ACLU affiliates Mark Schlosberg and Nicole A. Ozer in an essay on video surveillance proliferation.
Schlosberg and Ozer further analyzed the threats to civil liberties that come with surveillance cameras, especially with growing potential for video to be combined with newer technologies, such as face and eye scans, and automated identification software.
“In that context, video surveillance provides a critical pillar of a surveillance infrastructure. It creates the potential for the government to monitor people in public space, in a way envisioned only in futuristic novels,” said Schlosberg and Ozer.
Despite the lack of regulations for video recording, the use of surveillance cameras has doubled in the past 5 years.
“While the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution offers some protection against video searches conducted by the police, there are currently no general, legally enforceable rules to limit privacy invasions and protect against abuse of CCTV systems,” said the ACLU in a statement on their website.
Other residents felt safety was the most important factory in installing cameras.
“I think it’s probably good for safety. The parks are public places right? So I don’t necessarily think it’s an invasion of privacy, especially if things have gotten to the point of murder…that needs to be monitored,” said Elise Fitzsimmons, a local student.
The city decided the pros of adding cameras outweighed the cons, especially when it comes to monitoring criminal activity and providing evidence for making arrests.
“The camera feeds into our police department system. If there is a problem in any of the places where we have cameras, we can immediately bring it up and see what’s going on. I have officers that can and do sit and monitor various cameras throughout the city. If there’s a problem, the officers at the cameras can then direct resources or better inform operations based on what they’re seeing. If we have an emergency type of issue, dispatch will be able to immediately bring up the screens,” said Gominsky.
There are already approximately 358 cameras, as well as seven blue help points, in place in other parts of Santa Ana, including the Police Administration Building, Civic Center, Historic Downtown District, Police Detention Facility, Main Library, and Garfield Community Center. Gerardo Mouet, executive director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services, added that it’s important to keep the parks safe for the community to enjoy them.
“I would estimate that about 55% of the Santa Ana population visit our 50 parks and joint-use recreation centers. This translates to about 40,000 folks a year to the seven park sites in question. These are individual folks and many of them go two to three times a week to their neighborhood parks, so the actual number of visits would be much greater than 40,000,” said Mouet.
Councilman Juan Villegas asked that police continue to patrol the parks, even though a benefit of the cameras is supposed to include less officers physically needing to.
“At this time, I only have a single park ranger on staff and a part-time ranger. We continue to try to staff this program. I have law enforcement officers here 24 hours a day 365 days a year who can get to the parks when I don’t have a park ranger available should dispatch call,” said Gominsky.
Patrolling will continue as normal until the cameras are actually installed, when monitoring may take the place of some patrols. The city has signed a three-year contract with Siemens Inc., which is supposed to design, build, and maintain the cameras from Nov 9. 2017 through Nov. 8, 2020.
While the city council has approved all elements of this plan, neither Mouet nor Gominsky knew the timeline for when it would take effect.
“I do not know what that timeline looks like. We are trying to further utilize HUD (federal Housing and Urban Development) money, and should that all go as planned, we will get in touch with the contractor and get going. A lot depends on lead time and construction and final funding, but I hope to have it moving forward very quickly,” said Gominsky.
Catie Kovelman is a student journalist at Chapman University participating in the Voice of OC Youth Media program.