After Boston: In a California terrorist attack, cameras would be watching
'We will be able to piece it together'
by Eric Hartley and Sandy Mazza
If terrorists ever strike Southern California, police and federal agents here will immediately ask the same question those in Boston did Monday: Where are the cameras?
The answer: almost everywhere.
Though there's no guarantee terrorists would be recorded in the act, the chances grow almost every day - as does the size of Southern California's network of public and private surveillance cameras.
Immediately after the Boston Marathon bombings Monday, the FBI started combing through footage taken by cameras in the area. CNN reported Tuesday federal officials said they had not yet found footage of anyone placing the bombs.
Likewise, in a Los Angeles-area attack, video footage would be one of the first tools - not only from traditional surveillance cameras, but from the smartphones now carried by nearly everyone.
"Cameras have gotten so affordable, and the quality is so good for the money," said Capt. John Romero, whose division coordinates hundreds of cameras for the Los Angeles Police Department. "There's going to be so many cameras out there that we will be able to piece it together. "
Surveillance cameras have been around for decades. But in recent years, as new technology has made them cheaper and better and terrorism concerns have made them more attractive, their numbers have grown dramatically.
Cities, police departments, transit agencies, businesses and regular people across Southern California have installed thousands of cameras, some paid for with federal homeland security grants.
The city of Gardena now has 125 of them in its six square miles - and more in the works. Redlands, with about 70,000 people, has more than 100 cameras.
Larger cities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, have hundreds more.
And with Web-enabled cameras now common, requiring only a Web browser and a password to view, police can now monitor even private cameras (with the owners' permission) in real time or after the fact.
When police explain new surveillance cameras to residents, they talk almost exclusively about crime.
Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano said his city's cameras have helped catch drunken drivers and a man who shot someone in a park. Capt. Tom Brascia, the commander for the LAPD's Topanga station in the San Fernando Valley, said he expected them to be most useful in solving property crime.
But quietly, without any official plan, the Los Angeles region has also built a massive homeland security apparatus everyone hopes will never be needed.
A mouse click
Twenty years ago, police investigating a store holdup or a vandalism would ask that same question: Where are the cameras?
But in those days, using video evidence meant an officer or detective driving to a store and poring over grainy VHS tape - if someone hadn't already taped over it.
Now, police in cities including L.A., Long Beach and Gardena can view live or archived digital video and control cameras miles away with a few clicks.
When the LAPD unveiled 16 new surveillance cameras in the southwestern San Fernando Valley in January, police showed reporters how they could rotate the cameras with a mouse or a joystick.
Last year, Long Beach began using a system that integrated about 400 public and private cameras throughout the city. Video feeds are monitored by dispatchers in a room at the Police Department.
In Gardena, the cameras are so clear that viewers can make out whether someone is smoking a cigarette or a joint. And when there was a call for an argument at a park recently, Medrano said, he was able to scan the entire park and discover there was no problem before officers had even arrived.
At the LAPD's Real Time Analysis and Critical Response Division, Romero's officers can access hundreds of cameras in addition to those monitored at individual stations.
He did not want to discuss where in the city the cameras were or exactly what capabilities they might have in the event of a terrorist attack.
"The issue is that, do we really want to be talking about our methods for deterring terrorism?" he said.
The cameras aren't all watched in real time, something that would require many hundreds of officers, volunteers or civilian workers doing nothing else. But they make digital recordings that are kept for 30 days - or longer if necessary.
A detective can pull up footage in minutes or seconds. After a terrorist attack, the FBI could do the same.
Privacy advocates, civil liberties groups, libertarian and Tea Party groups oppose the growth in cameras as an invasion of privacy.
"Of course, when people are walking down the street, they can be seen by other members of the public, but it's a very different thing to have their activities in public recorded and maintained by law enforcement," said Peter Bibring, a senior attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.
Jacob Sullum, a senior editor with the libertarian Reason magazine, said a network of cameras covering an entire city would violate the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures because they could track people constantly, something impossible for police officers alone to do.
But the number of cameras seems likely to keep growing.
Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto said his city will add cameras when it can afford them.
"I think it's a great tool and a great way to catch criminals," he said. "I believe that technology is advancing so quickly that, in the future, a surveillance camera will be at every corner. Some people believe it's infringing on privacy, but if you're not doing anything wrong, your privacy won't be affected. "
Dennis Zine, a Los Angeles city councilman who used discretionary money to pay for 16 police cameras in his western San Fernando Valley district, said he thinks the monitoring will be more centralized in the future.
If there is an attack in a public place in California, the most important "surveillance" camera might be not the one installed on a rooftop, but the one in your pocket. At any public event, especially those like the Boston Marathon that seem likely to be terrorist targets, there's bound to be someone holding up a smartphone. A lot of someones.
After the Boston attacks, the FBI asked anyone with pictures or videos to email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
That kind of sharing, whether ahead of time or after the fact, is likely to be central to the future of video surveillance, Romero said.
That would help solve one problem: the expense of maintaining an ever-growing network of government-owned cameras. An L.A. City Council report last year found some of the city's 368 cameras hadn't been working for years and said police should dedicate more resources to them. Broken cameras kept police from getting evidence on the stabbing death of a 53-year-old man on L.A.'s Skid Row, the report said.
City Council members are expected to vote soon on a motion to spend money to fix broken cameras.
When LAPD officers monitored Occupy protests in the city, they used traditional surveillance cameras. But they also used footage from mainstream media and from "citizen journalists" broadcasting live video on sites such as Ustream, Romero said. People were, in effect, giving police the tools to watch them.
Privacy concerns, so far, have been no match for the march of technology.
"There is no expectation of privacy when you come to the public sphere, whether it be the airport or walking down the street," Zine said. "Some people say, 'This is Big Brother watching you.' Well, this is Big Brother protecting you. "
Boston bombings: Muslims fear another 'hysteria'
by Robin Abcarian
We will know soon enough who unleashed Monday's grotesque violence on Boston. But it is fair to say that many Muslims who heard that explosions had marred the end of the Boston Marathon had a simple, poignant thought: Please don't let it be a Muslim. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/lanow/la-me-robin-abcarian-perspective-20130402,0,101211.storygallery
“Was this thought crossing your mind today?” asked the Facebook page of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, which featured this Washington Post blog post on the subject. “Seems like it was for many Muslims.”
For Muslims who lived through the hysteria that followed the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the ugliness of the backlash against Muslims after the 9/11 attacks, such a response is understandable. “It's bad enough we have to witness the tragedy over and over again on CNN, and hear stories of an 8-year-old boy dying,” said MPAC president Salam Al-Marayati. “And then to add to that the idea your religion is going to be dragged through the mud, that's another layer of concern and anxiety.” Not long after the Boston attack, his group issued a press release that was mostly ignored: “MPAC condemns heinous terrorist attack. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those in Boston.”
It was important to make the statement, Al-Marayati said, because Muslim groups are often unfairly criticized for failing to raise their voices against violence. But even when they raise their voices, he said, they have trouble being heard. “People say, ‘We love your message. How come we don't hear enough of it?'” said Al-Marayati. “Or we still hear, ‘Where is the moderate voice.' We are always struggling to get our message out in a newsworthy fashion. People do pay attention more to extremists because they are the ones who can make news.” Al-Marayati, who is a member of the Faith-Based Advisory Committee of the president's Homeland Security Advisory Council, said he thinks there are fewer reflexive attempts to blame Muslims for apparent acts of terror than there used to be. But the attitude lingers.
“The New York Post said it's a Saudi national, Pamela Geller said ‘Jihad in Boston,' “ Al-Marayati said. (The New York Post reported that one of victims injured in the blast was a 20-year-old Saudi national who was being detained by police. Monday night, CBS News correspondent John Miller, a former FBI public affairs director, said that a Saudi man running from the scene — as were most other people — had been tackled by a bystander and turned over to police. He had not been arrested, was cooperating with authorities and denied any involvement in the blasts, Miller said. Geller is an Islamophobic blogger who has made a name for herself ranting about Muslims.)
“On one hand, some want to jump on the bashing of Muslims and Islam because those are coded words for saying ‘Islam is the problem,'”Al-Marayati said. “On the other hand, Al Qaeda is a real threat. But terrorism has no religion.”
Envelope containing ricin sent to Sen. Wicker, lawmakers say
An envelope thought to contain ricin was sent to the Capitol Hill office of Sen. Roger Wicker, lawmakers told Fox News on Tuesday.
The letter to the Mississippi Republican was intercepted at an off-site mail screening facility and never reached the Hill.
Authorities declined to comment on a suspect or any other aspect of the investigation being led by Capitol Police, but Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told the Associated Press police have a suspect in mind.
"The person that is a suspect writes a lot of letters to members," McCaskill said as she emerged from a classified briefing.
Testing is apparently still underway. The letter tested positive for ricin in a field test, but the FBI released a statement Wednesday saying tests have shown "inconsistent results" and the substance is being further analyzed.
According to a Homeland Security Department handbook, ricin is deadliest when inhaled. It is not contagious, but there is no antidote.
Wicker thanked law enforcement officials in a statement for "their hard work and diligence in keeping" those who work in the Capitol safe, adding that the matter is part of an ongoing investigation by Capitol Police and the FBI. "Gayle and I appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers," he said.
As of Tuesday night, mail delivery had only been stopped to the Senate, not the House.
"It is of concern," Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said after learning about the incident in a briefing with other senators late Tuesday.
The envelope had a Tennessee postmark and no return address.
The letter inside included an implied threat to effect of: "You haven't listen to me before. Now you will, even if people have to die," Politico also reported.
Sources say officials are familiar with the person believed to have sent the letter as the person has sent other letters before.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a scheduled talk about cyber security. But that briefing morphed into talks about Boston, after the bombings Monday.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer conducted a separate briefing for senators specifically on ricin.
It's unclear whether the letter had any connection to the Boston attack.
The mail-screening system was established after the Anthrax attacks of 2001 that closed the Hart Senate Office Building.
A Short Recent History of Pressure-Cooker Bombs
by Michael Crowley
Authorities are now saying the explosive devices used in the Boston attack were fashioned from pressure cookers. Yes, like the kitchen pot you might use to cook rice at home. As it happens, pressure cookers have a nefarious reputation in counterterrorism circles. In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was concerned enough about pressure-cooker bombs to issue an alert to federal and state security officials: “A technique commonly taught in Afghan terrorist training camps is the use/conversion of pressure cookers into [improvised explosive devices],” the bulletin warned.
That bulletin cited several plots from 2002 to 2004 to use pressure-cooker bombs in France, India and Nepal. But more recently there have been at least three other instances of would-be terrorists in the West, all of them Islamic radicals, in possession of pressure cookers for reasons that seemed not to involve having friends over for dinner. One was an Army private linked to the 2009 Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan, who had reportedly been taking bombmaking tips from al-Qaeda's short-lived (literally) online magazine Inspire and had various weapons and explosives along with his cooking pot . (The magazine reportedly recommended pressure cookers as explosive devices.) A 2010 suicide bomber in Stockholm had rigged a pressure-cooker bomb that failed to detonate. And as a newer DHS warning about the kitchen devices noted, the failed 2010 SUV bomb in New York's Times Square was a pressure-cooker device containing 120 firecrackers. The same DHS memo refers to a March 2010 bombing with a pressure cooker at a Western Christian aid agency in Pakistan that killed six people.
Counterterrorism officials are surely well aware of these facts and studying any related leads. But it's important to bear in mind that the ability to make these bombs is hardly unique to al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. Members of at least one prominent white-supremacist website have shared terrorist tips from Inspire, which one called “highly recommended reading.” Pressure-cooker bombs are also discussed in detail on this anarchist site, which describes how to build what is “affectionately known as a HELLHOUND.”
Nor do these devices require much money or special training. As DHS put it in 2004:
Typically, these bombs are made by placing TNT or other explosives in a pressure cooker and attaching a blasting cap at the top of the pressure cooker. The size of the blast depends on the size of the pressure cooker and the amount of explosive placed inside.
Pressure-cooker bombs are made with readily available materials and can be as simple or as complex as the builder decides. These types of devices can be initiated using simple electronic components including, but not limited to, digital watches, garage-door openers, cell phones or pagers. As a common cooking utensil, the pressure cooker is often overlooked when searching vehicles, residences or merchandise crossing the U.S. borders
The identity of the Boston bomber or bombers remains very much unclear, and it would be foolish to jump to conclusions. It would also be foolish to ignore the twisted recent history of the pressure cooker as a method for killing innocent people.
Community Police Academy
Plans were announced Tuesday to revise the Citizens Police Academy in Meridian. The initiative started last February. The primary sponsor for the class was the Meridian Police Department. Costing $100 to register, 20 students filled the ten week class.
Mayor Cheri Barry and Acting Police Chief James Sharpe held a news conference Thursday to announce some changes to the initiative. Both say they want to build on the program's success by making it accessible to more people.
"At this time we are going to shorten it to one night so that more people can attend, and at a later time we can go back to the Community Policing Project, but right now we want as many people as possible involved," says Mayor Barry.
The two hour course will cover four main areas: which include the Meridian Police Department's Patrol Division, Criminal Investigation Division, the procedures used for juvenile cases and details about the department's administration and reserve unit.
'We're going to basically tell them or give them examples of day-to-day cases that we deal with," says Acting Police Chief James Sharpe. "We deal with a lot of elements and we have to basically investigate everything that comes in and a lot of the things that we have to investigate and spend manpower and hours on are things that turn out not to be necessarily the way that it was reported to us."
City officials say the purpose for this revised Citizens Police Academy is to build a stronger bridge between the police department and the community. Ultimately, they say the goal is to increase the number of people who call in crimes, and the number of those who call the Crimestoppers line with crime solving tips.
"We have a Crimestoppers line, but it's not utilized as well as it should be, and I think that the establishment of a better trust base will help that," says Sharpe.
The Community Police Academy will be held Tuesday, April 23 at Union Station from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. It will be free and open to the public. Based on demand, Mayor Barry says similar sessions will be held as needed in the future.
Law enforcement 2.0: How to build your virtual police department
An effective partnership with your community today means an awareness and a unique media presence
by Lt. Rhonda Leipelt -- Redwood City, Calif. Police Department
Every police agency is beginning to recognize the unique challenge we all face in this era of Law Enforcement 2.0. The challenge is how to identify and engage our “community” in an ever-changing age of social media and modern technology advancements.
In early 2012, the Redwood City Police Department took this challenge head on and made a conscious decision to implement a new policing model that enhances proven community policing techniques by expanding their reach through the innovative use of technology and social media.
Social media technology + community policing = Social policing
"Social Policing" is the Redwood City Police Department's “Community-Centric” approach to building an effective partnership with our community and it includes a structured approach to building our unique social media presence.
The 1989 movie, Field of Dreams, said it best, “If you build it, they will come...”, yet building a consistent “presence," “voice," “brand” or “identity” across many platforms can be tricky—if not completely overwhelming if you do not take the time to develop a comprehensive plan.
How did we begin? The details of which platforms to implement or who should manage them are not nearly as important as embracing the concept that your agency has to have a plan for managing your virtual police department—where every component of your physical agency can be mirrored in the virtual setting.
In your virtual PD, you have to prepare to manage your community policing presence along with an emergency alert system, investigative leads and public information assistance requests, criminal monitoring and data mining and now youth services including anti-bullying social media components.
It is a dangerous plan to enter social media only to engage the public socially and not assume your community will expect full-service in all areas of your virtual police department.
The most dangerous assumption being made in law enforcement is that social media is “trendy” and just another mechanism for community policing and feel-good stories about your staff. Absolutely, that is one component of social media and I would argue that this is exactly how you start to build your virtual “community."
However, once you have established your presence, you have to prepare your organization to be ready to address the other disciplines of your virtual police department that include the following:
This component is the foundation for all of our social media platforms and we operate under the belief that we are the official information source for all activity related to our police department and our “brand." Two-way communication with our residents is the cornerstone of our social policing model and it allows our department to incorporate the community's point of view in order to create a sustainable, balanced and interactive model for enhanced police services.
This component recognizes that delivering timely and accurate information to keep residents informed is a department priority.
However, social media is a two-way street and if we push out information, we have to prepare for police calls or emergency information being pushed back on to our social media sites.
Yes, we have received a “shot fired” message via Twitter and suspicious person reports on Facebook. Additionally, in a geographic region known for earthquakes, we believe we have a duty to study how Twitter is being used for emergency services in catastrophic events across the world and a plan to use them.
This component involves utilizing social media outlets to request the public's assistance for active investigations. What cases, information, and images are released? How long are they posted? Who monitors the responses? How do we document it? Who makes publishing decisions—PIO, Investigations, Social Media Team?
The rewards completely justify the use. We located an “at-risk” elderly missing person after eight hours of conventional searching in less than 13 minutes after a Twitter Alert was published.
We also identified and located a serial armed robber wanted in multiple jurisdictions in less than 24 hours after publishing video of the suspect on Facebook.
Criminal Activity and Data Mining
This component deals with the obvious criminal threats and criminal activity now displayed in the virtual setting.
Training and familiarity with social media platforms is not only a issue in field services, but also begs the question of who is monitoring the open source data swirling in the cloud above your jurisdiction about your officers, operations, and brand?
We openly troll our platforms for key words, jurisdiction issues, brand tags and other search criteria for specific events in order to develop operational plans.
We have located fake accounts made for our political residents, threats to President Obama during his presidential campaign stop in Redwood City and Occupy activity during Mitt Romney's visit.
Quite frankly, this is a new component that our team recently identified to address our tech-savvy juveniles who bully online, post and share inappropriate images, and now operate in a digital age that is completely foreign to our officers and our adult community.
We have an obligation to close both the generation and service gaps by structuring youth services to include a significant understanding of social media at all levels.
The Redwood City Police Department has recognized that technology has redefined the definition of “Community” beyond fixed geographic boundaries and is now only limited by our citizen's willingness to engage with us in person and in the virtual Redwood City community.
We are actively engaging our residents through our Social Policing strategy and we are constantly looking for new ways to collaborate in order to provide more effective community-police partnerships focused on enhancing the level of service we can provide.
This innovative model of “community-centric” policing utilizes emerging technologies and social media to serve our residents as effectively as possible because we believe that it is our duty as a trusted provider of municipal government services, to never forget who our customers are—the citizens of Redwood City.
If you have any questions about building your department's social media presence, email: Lt. Leipelt