Long Beach Police Raid Medical Marijuana Dispensary, Smashing Surveillance Cameras, Assault Employee, Cause 10’s Of Thousands In Damages As They Trash Business

July 5, 2012

LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA – A raid on a marijuana dispensary in Long Beach was caught on video showing officers smashing surveillance cameras and stepping on a suspect, moves that prompted accusations against the officers of excessive force.

More than a dozen police raided THC Downtown Collective in the 300 block of Atlantic Boulevard (map) on June 19, officials said. The video was posted to YouTube by user “Long Beach Raids” on July 1. Officials said they learned about the video on July 3.

The two-minute-long video (below) opens to show a man surrendering to police, three of whom surround him while two put him in handcuffs.

One of the officers is seen stepping on volunteer employee Dorian Brooks’ back with both feet before stepping on his neck, with what Brooks described as 300 pounds of pressure.

The video, which was being recorded at an off-site location, then cuts to an officer pointing at the recording camera before another looks up and smashes the lens.

“They noticed there was a camera that was on the wall right above my head, so they proceeded to smash it with a metal rod,” said Brooks, adding that the camera shattered on him. “I wasn’t able to protect myeslf because my hands were cuffed.”

“I felt violated; I felt disrespected,” Brooks said.

The video cuts again and reopens on a man donning a tshirt and backwards baseball cap with what appears to be a badge hanging from his neck. This man, apparently behind the dispensary’s counter, also smashes the recording camera.

Footage from after the raid shows a disheveled room, with portions of the ceiling removed and scattered on the floor, strew with boxes, electrical cables and other objects.

Dispensary employees claim the raid caused tens of thousands of damage, and police took the collective’s ATM and cannabis.

“A thorough review into what occurred during that operation will be conducted once all of the facts have been collected. This is a personnel matter and we are unable to discuss any further details,” Lisa Massacani, with LB police, wrote in a statement.

Police said the dispensary was operating under state compliance, but did not have a city permit.

Five people were arrested in the raid, according to Long Beach police:

Dallas Alexander, 31, of Long Beach, was arrested on suspicion of operating an unpermitted marijuana dispensary, serving as a looking for illegal activity and on an outstanding warrant from another jurisdiction;
Fernando Garcia, 50, and Mario Sanchez, 31, both of Los Angeles, and Landon Alexander, 22 of Long Beach were arrested on suspicion of operating an unpermitted marijuana dispensary and obstruction;
Dorian Brooks, 28, of Long Beach, was arrested on suspicion of operating an unpermitted marijuana dispensary

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Taking Money In Name Of “Safety” – One San Diego California Red Light Camera Accounts For 1/4 Of All City’s Camera Tickets – 4,672 Last Year – $480 Each Because City Won’t Fix Bad Intersection

June 24, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – The top spot for red-light tickets in San Diego is the intersection of North Harbor Drive and West Grape Street near Lindbergh Field — a tourist welcome spot with chronic traffic backups.

The city’s red-light cameras spotted 4,672 violations there last year, nearly a quarter of all camera tickets written in the city, according to a review of city data by The Watchdog. That’s 389 per month, or about a dozen a day.

The next closest intersection was Aero Drive at Murphy Canyon Road, with 3,170 tickets last year.

The stated purpose of the red-light camera program is to prevent violations and, by extension, accidents. Officials say the Harbor and Grape location’s mission is to keep motorists from blocking the intersection during gridlock through fear of a $480 ticket.

City transportation spokesman Bill Harris said the city plans to add a third left-turn lane from southbound Harbor to eastbound Grape to relieve congestion, which may be causing the red-light running.

“The camera at Grape and Harbor is a traffic control effort just as the installation of a third turn lane will be once completed,” Harris said. “The camera was not installed, nor has the city maintained it, for reasons based solely on accident statistics.”

Attorney Mitch Mehdy, whose firm brands itself as The Original Mr. Ticket, said he has represented several tourists who have received one of the Harbor and Grape camera’s tickets. He said the camera gives the city a bad name.

“I get calls from all over the United States and from Canada,” Mehdy said. “They basically say, ‘yeah I had a good trip, and then I got this thing in the mail.’”

The intersection was first outfitted with red-light cameras in 1999. Despite hundreds of violations per month, state accident data shows that there were only two injury crashes at the intersection from 2001 to 2011.

Harris said the traffic backing up around the intersection is nevertheless an area hazard. He said it poses a safety risk to pedestrians weaving around cars stopped in crosswalks and to drivers entering or exiting businesses into the log-jammed traffic on North Harbor Drive.

“Traffic planning is not about some small radius,” Harris said. “We have to look beyond an intersection to see what effects will occur.”

Related: Urination tickets saturate Pacific Beach

The city in 2002 commissioned a study to restore confidence in its red-light program, which was on hiatus from 2001 to 2003 because of bad publicity and unfavorable court decisions.

The audit found the program did not reduce red light violations at the intersection, which had a very low crash rate. The audit suggested traffic engineering improvements, rather than ongoing ticket issuing.

Harris said the city has extended North Harbor Drive’s left turn lanes, improved signal timing throughout the area and has made entrances and exits to businesses safer. He said the intersection’s camera encourages all kinds of drivers to keep the intersection clear.

“That’s a busy intersection for everyone. Certainly people who are renting cars are tourists, but there are also people picking up relatives from the airport,” Harris said. “We don’t build intersections just for tourists.”

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Washington DC Pockets $55 Million In Safety Cash From Redlight And Speed Cameras – Fines Have Risen 150% Over 2 To 3 Years – District Ads Lots More Cameras Hoping For Extra $30 Million In Next Year

June 8, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Speed and red-light cameras have become a booming industry. After a record performance last year, D.C. is on pace to bring in even more cash this year.

Using a Freedom of Information Act request, AAA Mid-Atlantic found that the District took in a record $55.1 million from speed and red-light cameras during its 2011 fiscal year, despite issuing fewer citations than the year before.

In 2011, the city mailed 462,601 tickets. Of those, 397,464 were paid and 65,137 remain unpaid. In 2010, D.C. mailed 618,165 tickets. Of those, 547,131 were paid and 71,034 were not.

“No one does it better that the District of Columbia,” says John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs.

He says revenues have climbed because fines have gone up by 150 percent over the last two to three years.

By comparison, Montgomery County, which is both larger and more populous than D.C., took in $19 million from camera enforcement within a similar time span, according to Townsend.

This year, the District is expected to set new records for revenue and number of tickets issued. From October 2011 to April 2012, the city has mailed 472,320 tickets.

So far, 353,342 have been paid.

“They’ve said that they want to generate $30 million more in the next budget cycle,” Townsend says.

“Once you do that, you raise questions about the integrity of the program.”

Additionally, 27 more speed cameras came online this week after a 30-day grace period. Locations of those cameras include well-traveled routes, such as the 14th Street Bridge, the Ninth Street Tunnel, and the Southwest Freeway.

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Law Enforcement Officials Refuse To Identify Who Owns Or Uses License Plate Readers/Cameras Being Installed On Lawrence County New York Utility Poles

June 2, 2012

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, NEW YORK – Some area law enforcement officials apparently know who is installing the mysterious camera boxes on utility poles around St. Lawrence County, but they’re not saying who it is.

The boxes, with a window for cameras to peer out of, have popped up in Norwood, Raymondville, DeKalb Junction, Waddington, Massena and Canton, according to witnesses.

Law enforcement officials at local, state and federal agencies agree the boxes contain license plate readers that take snapshots, and are not video cameras that send live feeds. But none of them are willing to identify what agency the cameras belong to and who is operating them.

The cameras appear to be identical to license plate readers advertised on web sites as containing a visible light camera, infrared camera and an infrared light source. The cameras can read plates on passing vehicles, record the plate number, date, time and location, send it to a database for storage, and alert law enforcement if it detects a vehicle or driver being sought.

They are similar to vehicle-mounted units that St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells says his department has been using for 10 years.

But about the pole-mounted cameras, Sheriff Wells says, “They are not mine.”

A spokesperson from National Grid, the major electric distributor in the region, said the company periodically agrees to requests from police agencies for placement of such devices on utility poles, but they are not permitted to reveal any details about whose cameras they are or where they might be.

National Grid’s Virginia Limmiatis, a senior media relations representative in Syracuse, said their policy “authorizes the user to plug into our system. Under the agreement they are required to install and maintain their own equipment.” The user will get a bill for a usage fee. But she couldn’t say whose cameras these are.

Meanwhile, a box Massena Electric employees found on one of their poles was turned over to the Massena Police Department. “We didn’t even know it was a camera,” said Superintendent Andrew McMahon. “We called the village police to pick it up.”

Massena Police Chief Timmy Currier said he returned it to the owner, but wouldn’t say how he knew who the owner was, nor would he say who he gave it to.

A Border Patrol operations officer in the sector station in Swanton, Vt., said he had no knowledge about the use of the cameras. He referred questions to an investigator apparently associated with Franklin County law enforcement, who said he knew about other cameras, but didn’t know about deployment of license plate readers, and wouldn’t discuss it further.

State Police Lt. Kevin Boyea of Troop B said he has no knowledge of the cameras, their origin or their purpose.

However, not all police agencies were aware of the boxes. After discussing it at a periodic meeting of police chiefs from around the county this morning, Wells said, “none of the local chiefs were ever contacted about the existence of these cameras.”

Several of the law enforcement representatives said use of cameras – license plate readers and surveillance cameras – is increasing, and while we might not be used to such scrutiny in the North Country, each cited reports about how people living in cities should expect to be on camera at any given moment.

“Any time you travel in an urban area, you will see lots of cameras,” said Sheriff Wells. Many, he said, are designed to record drivers who go through red lights, and there are many other uses. “They’re designed to assist police. They are a tool for investigators.”

But any law enforcement agency that wants data stored by the cameras can have access to it if they need it and can show why. But they can’t tell us who they send their requests to.

McMahon, the superintendent at Massena Electric Department, said one of his crews found a box on one of their poles and took it down because “it was in the electric space,” the top tier of wires on the pole above the telephone and cable TV wires, and whoever put it there had taken a chance with electrocution. He said they had never received a request or been informed about its placement.

McMahon said whoever put it there might have thought the pole belonged to National Grid, and that it wouldn’t be the first time a mistake like that had happened. He said National Grid themselves had once replaced a damaged Massena Electric pole without knowing it.

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Media Threatened With Arrests In Chantilly Virgina – Man Arrested For Crossing Street – Photographers Arrested For Taking Pictures

June 1, 2012

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA – The security crackdown surrounding the Bilderberg Group confab in Chantilly, Virginia intensified today after a protester was arrested for little more than crossing the street. The incident followed the arrest of two activists yesterday for taking photographs.

The video clip shows a man in a white t-shirt appearing to cross the street in an attempt to get back onto the sidewalk. Even as he tries to walk back to the designated protest area, Fairfax cops grab the man, slap him in handcuffs and take him away.

The arrest appeared to be an intimidation tactic aimed at the hundreds of other demonstrators in attendance.

Indeed, when another protester began loudly asking what would happen if hundreds of protesters stepped onto the street, the police almost immediately left the scene.

As we reported yesterday, two protesters, one of them a veteran, were arrested last night simply for getting too close to arriving Bilderberg members’ limousines in an effort to take photographs.

The Washington Times also reported yesterday that its photographer was told by police “any attempt to get close to the building would result in arrest.”

Given the fact that the Bilderberg Group prefers their conference to be kept out of the media, arrests at the summit of power brokers are rare, but given the unprecedented security crackdown that has dominated the event this year, expect more incidents like this to occur over the next three days.

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Slight Of Hand Gives Washington DC Police Access To Cameras On Private Property That Aren’t Subject To Current Rules, Regulations, And Privacy Issues

February 7, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – “Once the camera is there it’s very tempting to say ‘Let’s look at it for other reasons,’ ” said Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital.

As an example, Mr. Spitzer said, a divorce lawyer might try to subpoena surveillance footage that could show evidence of a spouse’s affair by recording the person’s travels through the neighborhood.

“Once something exists, it can often be hard to protect it from being used in other ways,” he said.

Before installing the first of what is now 83 crime cameras monitoring D.C. neighborhoods after a 2006 crime wave, the Metropolitan Police Department adopted regulations governing their use, including the dictate that signs must be posted around their locations and that residents be informed of their implementation. Rules also governed who was allowed to view feeds from the cameras, how often the recordings were deleted and the viewpoint the cameras could have.

But no such rules are in place governing private cameras or the guarantee that citizens installing cameras will be versed in privacy issues, said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel with the D.C.-based Constitution Project.

“When you have such routine and regularized recording by a private group that is not covered by those regulations, it raises concerns,” she said. “They could be subject to various abuses through ignorance of the kind of concerns they should have.”

The neighborhood crime cameras are separate from the more than 5,000 cameras placed at traffic intersections, in schools and other government-run facilities that are monitored by the D.C. government.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who oversees the District’s public safety committee, said the placement of Georgetown cameras is analogous to property owners who put cameras in private parking lots or banks which may capture footage of the surrounding areas.

“They don’t run into trouble unless the tape is misused,” Mr. Mendelson said.

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Washington DC Police Track Motorists In Real-Time With Cameras, Then Store In Massive Database

November 22, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – An armed robber burst into a Northeast Washington market, scuffled with the cashier, and then shot him and the clerk’s father, who also owned the store. The killer sped off in a silver Pontiac, but a witness was able to write down the license plate number.

Police figured out the name of the suspect very quickly. But locating and arresting him took a little-known investigative tool: a vast system that tracks the comings and goings of anyone driving around the District.

Scores of cameras across the city capture 1,800 images a minute and download the information into a rapidly expanding archive that can pinpoint people’s movements all over town.

Police entered the suspect’s license plate number into that database and learned that the Pontiac was on a street in Southeast. Police soon arrested Christian Taylor, who had been staying at a friend’s home, and charged him with two counts of first-degree murder. His trial is set for January.

More than 250 cameras in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time, helping police pinpoint stolen cars and fleeing killers. But the program quietly has expanded beyond what anyone had imagined even a few years ago.

With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles.

Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the District, which has more than one plate-reader per square mile, the highest concentration in the nation. Police in the Washington suburbs have dozens of them as well, and local agencies plan to add many more in coming months, creating a comprehensive dragnet that will include all the approaches into the District.

“It never stops,” said Capt. Kevin Reardon, who runs Arlington County’s plate reader program. “It just gobbles up tag information. One of the big questions is, what do we do with the information?”

Police departments are grappling with how long to store the information and how to balance privacy concerns against the value the data provide to investigators. The data are kept for three years in the District, two years in Alexandria, a year in Prince George’s County and a Maryland state database, and about a month in many other suburban areas.

“That’s quite a large database of innocent people’s comings and goings,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union’s technology and liberty program. “The government has no business collecting that kind of information on people without a warrant.”

But police say the tag readers can give them a critical jump on a child abductor, information about when a vehicle left — or entered — a crime scene, and the ability to quickly identify a suspected terrorist’s vehicle as it speeds down the highway, perhaps to an intended target.

Having the technology during the Washington area sniper shootings in 2002 might have stopped the attacks sooner, detectives said, because police could have checked whether any particular car was showing up at each of the shooting sites.

“It’s a perfect example of how they’d be useful,” said Lt. T.J. Rogers, who is responsible for the 26 tag readers maintained by the Fairfax County police. “We see a lot of potential in it.”

The plate readers are different from red-light or speed cameras, which issue traffic tickets and are tools for deterrence and enforcement. The readers are an investigative tool, capturing a picture of every license plate that passes by and instantly analyzing them against a database filled with cars wanted by police.

Police can also plug any license plate number into the database and, as long as it passed a camera, determine where that vehicle has been and when. Detectives also can enter a be-on-the-lookout into the database, and the moment that license plate passes a detector, they get an alert.

It’s that precision and the growing ubiquity of the technology that has libertarians worried. In Northern Virginia recently, a man reported his wife missing, prompting police to enter her plate number into the system.

They got a hit at an apartment complex, and when they got there, officers spotted her car and a note on her windshield that said, in essence, “Don’t tow, I’m visiting apartment 3C.” Officers knocked on the door of that apartment, and she came out of the bedroom. They advised her to call her husband.

A new tool in the arsenal

Even though they are relatively new, the tag readers, which cost about $20,000 each, are now as widely used as other high-tech tools police employ to prevent and solve crimes, including surveillance cameras, gunshot recognition sensors and mobile finger­print scanners.

License plate readers can capture numbers across four lanes of traffic on cars zooming up to 150 mph.

“The new technology makes our job a lot easier and the bad guys’ job a lot harder,” said D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

The technology first was used by the postal service to sort letters. Units consist of two cameras — one that snaps digital photographs and another that uses an optical infrared sensor to decipher the numbers and letters. The camera captures a color image of the vehicle while the sensor “reads” the license plate and transfers the data to a computer.

When stored over time, the collected data can be used instantaneously or can help with complex analysis, such as whether a car appears to have been followed by another car or if cars are traveling in a convoy.

Police also have begun using them as a tool to prevent crime. By positioning them in nightclub parking lots, for example, police can collect information about who is there. If members of rival gangs appear at a club, police can send patrol cars there to squelch any flare-ups before they turn violent. After a crime, police can gather a list of potential witnesses in seconds.

“It’s such a valuable tool, it’s hard not to jump on it and explore all the things it can do for law enforcement,” said Kevin Davis, assistant chief of police in Prince George’s County.

The readers have been used across the country for several years, but the program is far more sophisticated in the Washington region. The District has 73 readers; 38 of them sit stationary and the rest are attached to police cars. D.C. officials say every police car will have one some day.

The District’s license plate cameras gather more than a million data points a month, and officers make an average of an arrest a day directly from the plate readers, said Tom Wilkins, executive director of the D.C. police department’s intelligence fusion division, which oversees the plate reader program. Between June and September, police found 51 stolen cars using the technology.

Police do not publicly disclose the locations of the readers. And while D.C. law requires that the footage on crime surveillance cameras be deleted after 10 days unless there’s an investigative reason to keep it, there are no laws governing how or when Washington area police can use the tag reader technology. The only rule is that it be used for law enforcement purposes.

“That’s typical with any emerging technology,” Wilkins said. “Even though it’s a tool we’ve had for five years, as it becomes more apparent and widely used and more relied upon, people will begin to scrutinize it.”

Legal concerns

Such scrutiny is happening now at the U.S. Supreme Court with a related technology: GPS surveillance. At issue is whether police can track an individual vehicle with an attached GPS device.

Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University who has been closely watching the Supreme Court case, said the license plate technology probably would pass constitutional muster because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy on public streets.

But, Kerr said, the technology’s silent expansion has allowed the government to know things it couldn’t possibly know before and that the use of such massive amounts of data needs safeguards.

“It’s big brother, and the question is, is it big brother we want, or big brother that we don’t want?” Kerr said. “This technology could be used for good and it could be used for bad. I think we need a conversation about whether and how this technology is used. Who gets the information and when? How long before the information is deleted? All those questions need scrutiny.”

Should someone access the database for something other than a criminal investigation, they could track people doing legal but private things. Having a comprehensive database could mean government access to information about who attended a political event, visited a medical clinic, or went to Alcoholics Anonymous or Planned Parenthood.

Maryland and Virginia police departments are expanding their tag reader programs and by the end of the year expect to have every major entry and exit point to the District covered.

“We’re putting fixed sites up in the capital area,” said Sgt. Julio Valcarcel, who runs the Maryland State Police’s program, which now has 19 mobile units and one fixed unit along a major highway, capturing roughly 27 million reads per year. “Several sites are going online over the winter.”

Some jurisdictions store the information in a large networked database; others retain it only in the memory of each individual reader’s computer, then delete it after several weeks as new data overwrite it.

A George Mason University study last year found that 37 percent of large police agencies in the United States now use license plate reader technology and that a significant number of other agencies planned to have it by the end of 2011. But the survey found that fewer than 30 percent of the agencies using the tool had researched any legal implications.

There also has been scant legal precedent. In Takoma Park, police have two tag readers that they have been using for two years. Police Chief Ronald A. Ricucci said he was amazed at how quickly the units could find stolen cars. When his department first got them, he looked around at other departments to see what kind of rules and regulations they had.

“There wasn’t much,” Ricucci said. “A lot of people were using them and didn’t have policies on them yet.”

Finding stolen cars faster

The technology first came to the Washington region in 2004 as a pilot program. During an early test, members of the Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement Unit recovered eight cars, found 12 stolen license plates and made three arrests in a single shift. Prince George’s police bought several units to help combat the county’s crippling car theft and carjacking problem. It worked.

“We recover cars very quickly now. In previous times that was not the case,” said Prince George’s Capt. Edward Davey, who is in charge of the county’s program. “Before, they’d be dumped on the side of the road somewhere for a while.”

Now Prince George’s has 45 units and is likely to get more soon.

“The more we use them, the more we realize there’s a whole lot more on the investigative end of them,” Davey said. “We are starting to evolve. Investigators are starting to realize how to use them.”

Arlington police cars equipped with the readers regularly drive through the parking garage at the Pentagon City mall looking for stolen cars, checking hundreds of them in a matter of minutes as they cruise up and down the aisles. In Prince William County, where there are 12 mobile readers, the units have been used to locate missing people and recover stolen cars.

Unlike in the District, in most suburban jurisdictions, the units are only attached to police cars on patrol, and there aren’t enough of them to create a comprehensive net.

Virginia State Police have 42 units for the entire state, most of them focused on Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Tidewater area, and as of now have no fixed locations. There is also no central database, so each unit collects information on its own and compares it against a daily download of wanted vehicles from the FBI and the state.

But the state police are looking into fixed locations that could capture as many as 100 times more vehicles, 24 hours a day, with the potential to blanket the interstates.

“Now, we’re not getting everything — we’re fishing,” said Sgt. Robert Alessi, a 23-year veteran who runs the state police’s program. “Fixed cameras will help us use a net instead of one fishing pole with one line in the water waiting to get a nibble.”

Beyond the technology’s ability to track suspects and non-criminals alike, it has expanded beyond police work. Tax collectors in Arlington bought their own units and use the readers to help collect money owed to the county. Chesterfield County, in Virginia, uses a reader it purchased to collect millions of dollars in delinquent car taxes each year, comparing the cars on the road against the tax rolls.

Police across the region say that they are careful with the information and that they are entrusted with many pieces of sensitive information about citizens, including arrest records and Social Security numbers.

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re not driving a stolen car, you’re not committing a crime,” Alessi said, “then you don’t have anything to worry about.”

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