10/09/2007

Motion-sensors leave vandals soaking wet in Calif.

By Alison Hewitt, Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune  
 L.A. law enforcement trying to paint taggers into a corner


Gang graffiti is painted on the sidewalk on 103rd Street in front of David Starr Jordan High School in the Watts district of Los Angeles April 2007. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
WEST COVINA, Calif. — A new high-tech, motion-sensor pilot program to combat graffiti could catch vandals on film - and leave them soaking wet.

West Covina installed motion-sensitive sprinklers about a week ago in several locations, where video and still cameras that talk will be installed later this week. Anyone wandering around a park at one of the sprinklers' pilot locations after the park is closed for the night will get caught in a spray of water, said Police Chief Frank Wills.

The sprinkler project is all about annoying criminals away, he said.

"We want to make it as uncomfortable as we can for people contemplating vandalism in our city," Wills said.

City Council inquiries into whether the sprinklers could be filled with blue dye to help mark and track culprits were shot down for liability reasons, Wills said.

This appears to be the first time the sprinklers have been used in the county, Wills said. Although the sheriff's department is piloting a similar camera program, with motion-detecting snapshots, this is the first sprinkler pilot they've heard of, said Fabian Escalante, the department's information technology project manager.

City officials are reluctant to say where the gadgets are installed.

"We don't want vandals to know (where) we have them yet," said City Manager Andrew Pasmant. "The whole point is to kind of catch them off guard."

The sprinklers were installed where there was repeated vandalism at the same spot. They are free to the department on a trial basis, but will run $1,400 per location if they're kept or expanded. The seven video cameras - the most expensive equipment at more than $54,000 - will catch taggers in the act.

The two talking cameras totaled $7,000. They're also portable, and will go wherever the Police Department notices recurring graffiti.

"Essentially, it will notify people that it's illegal to be where they're at, that their picture has just been taken, and in some cases, it will say that the police are on their way," Wills said.

"And the quality of the pictures are excellent," he boasted.

The talking camera's ability to notify the department whenever it takes a picture also means that officers don't waste time scanning surveillance video, and that the department can respond quickly, Wills said. Even if the people caught on film aren't spritzing paint on the walls, they can expect to get a $96-$201 citation for trespassing in the park after closing time, he said.

|"It's easy for kids to throw their implements in the bushes, so we've really redoubled our efforts at giving out these citations," Wills said.

"It's viewed by some people as overzealous, and we've gotten calls from some parents, but so far the effort has proved worthwhile," he said.

A program awarding $100 to anyone who turns in a tagger also has taken off, with 18 people having profitted from reporting since the program started in May, Wills said.

Copyright 2007 MediaNews Group, Inc. and Los Angeles Newspaper Group, Inc.
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