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OCTA gets federal grant to put cameras on its buses

August 27, 2008|Paloma Esquivel | Times Staff Writer

By next year, about 40% of Orange County's buses will be equipped with cameras to monitor passengers and record onboard incidents.

The cameras, purchased with grant money from the federal Department of Homeland Security beginning two years ago, were intended to serve as a digital watchdog against crime and a deterrent to potential threats.

But officials said that none of the cameras installed on more than 100 buses so far have been used to look for criminal activity -- in part because the images were not monitored live.

A pilot program to allow transit police to monitor the cameras in real time from patrol vehicles is being developed and should be in place later this year, said Orange Country Transportation Authority spokesman Joel Zlotnik. The cameras have been used occasionally for internal review of incidents, such as when passengers fall, Zlotnik said.

Cameras "help strengthen the nation's transportation network against the risks associated with potential terrorist attacks," he said.

"We hope to never encounter an emergency situation, but in the event we do, it's critical to have the strategies in place to respond as quickly as possible," county Supervisor Chris Norby, OCTA chairman, said in a statement on the grant.

OCTA used about $2 million in homeland security money over the last two years to buy cameras. This week, OCTA accepted another grant for about $1.5 million, most of which will go toward putting cameras on 126 more buses. About $100,000 of the grant will be used to support an emergency preparedness exercise and training program.

The money comes from $11.3 million in homeland security funds allotted to Orange and Los Angeles counties for increased bus and rail security, officials said.

The security systems -- six cameras inside buses and one outside -- will be installed on new vehicles as they join OCTA's fleet.

Video is kept indefinitely, and the system is computerized so drivers can push a button and tag an incident if needed, Zlotnik said.

Other local transit systems use different security methods.

Metrolink does not have cameras in trains, but it conducts random bag searches and sometimes uses explosive-sniffing dogs to search cars, spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell said.

Security concerns on Metrolink don't typically "rise to the homeland security level," she said.

In Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has cameras on its entire fleet of more than 2,500 buses, many of which were funded with homeland security money, a spokesman said.


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