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Police propose Business Watch program

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By Carol A. Clark

Theft hotspots tracked in 2007, 2008 and 2009 clearly identify downtown Los Alamos as the most concentrated center of crime in the entire county.

“Every time I step out of my truck there’s a victim and I hate it – I hate it for all of you,” Det. Doug Johnson told business owners gathered at UNM-LA for Thursday’s Chamber Business Breakfast.

Following a recent rash of downtown break-ins, Los Alamos Police partnered with the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce to present a security talk to area business owners.

Johnson is the crime analyst for the LAPD. He briefed the audience on patrol coverage saying the minimum patrol shift includes three officers.

One officer patrols downtown and throughout the western area. Another patrols north of Ridgecrest and south of the bridge and a third officer covers White Rock.

There is a fourth officer scheduled who assists the other three patrol officers, but may be a supervisor and not always available, he said.

“I’m sorry but it’s going to happen again,” Johnson said of business break-ins. “The question is what we are going to do about it. It doesn’t matter if we missed it by two hours or 10 seconds, we missed it and you guys are victims.”

Johnson proposed a Business Watch program in which business owners cooperate with each other and with police to develop a mutually supportive, privately owned, security camera network in the downtown area.

He stressed a “privately owned” network emphasizing police are not interested in creating a “big brother” situation, but rather an opportunity for business owners to provide video tape evidence to police, should they choose to, following a break-in.

“As an officer, a former Marine, I see things differently when I look at the downtown than you may,” Johnson said. He spoke of channelization and detailed chalk points where placing cameras would maximize effectiveness.

“The goal is to develop a coordinated effort to interlace cameras among businesses to optimize efficiency,” Johnson said.

The most common mistakes business owners and managers make include poor camera placement, purchasing cheap security systems and a lack of personnel training, he said.

Because businesses are concerned with shoplifting activities, cameras are typically installed and focused inside area stores and restaurants.

Often-times cameras point straight down at a cash drawer, which Det. DeWayne Williams explained is not the way to catch much more than the top of a thief’s head or hat. “You want to angle cameras so they capture a person’s face,” he said.

Williams further explained that like anything, “you get what you pay for.” A cheap surveillance system with poor resolution won’t be much, if any help to investigators, he said.

The LAPD is willing to incur the cost and labor for purchasing and placing Business Watch decals on participating business windows.

The decals are bright yellow with black lettering stating, “Business Watch Program In Force/We report all suspicious activities to our fellow merchants and law enforcement agencies.”

“We want deterrents,” Johnson said.

Some local businesses have good security systems or systems that just need a little tweaking. One owner at the breakfast mentioned having a system that has a remote capability and has a motion detector that sends a text when someone enters the store after hours.

The system also e-mails images of the perpetrator, which can be forwarded to police.

The importance of securing surveillance equipment also was mentioned. Capt. Randy Foster mentioned considering the option of placing a dummy VCR in plain sight so the thief will see it and steal it when in fact the real system is secured out of sight and aimed straight as the thief’s face.

Williams advised owners unable to afford a security system to invest in a couple of motion sensor flood lights for about $15.

“Turn them on at night and they are very effective,” Williams said.

The detectives spoke of the “phenomenal capabilities” available from the latest technological advances in security surveillance systems.

“Los Alamos National Bank’s system is bar none the best system in Los Alamos,” Johnson said.

Also participating in the morning event were county information technology expert Joel Pearson who spoke about mapping initiatives, business owner Cyndi Wells who addressed remote video activities and Lt. Reggie Briggle who talked about forensic enhancement techniques.

The presentation wrapped up with police offering to join with the Chamber to connect business owners and resources in an effort to reach the best deals on security systems. Interested businesses can contact Katy Korkos at the Chamber at 661-4816 for information.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.