Shorthanded MLPD to use more video surveillance


Cameras at Village are fixed; next in line is Skate Park

For those who may have a fantasy about becoming a television or film star, the Village at Mammoth or the Volcom Brothers Skate Park are offering auditions.

The only thing an aspiring actor has to do is stir up a heap of trouble at either or both venues, and the Mammoth Lakes Police Department will give him a thumbs-up or thumbs down.

With a police force that is 40 percent of what it was a year ago, Chief Dan Watson said he is stepping up efforts at alternative policing, and that includes the increasing use of video technology to capture crimes and/or ongoing problems.

“Among the ideas that have been suggested to minimize the impact of the loss of people,” Watson said, “is to look at things like volunteers, the reserve program, and technology. This is an approach to look at something that would make us more efficient through technology, and that’s surveillance cameras at the skate park.”

It is not that the skate park, situated along Lower Meridian Boulevard near the Industrial Park, is exactly a hotbed of crime.

But over the years, Mammoth police officers have included the skate park on their patrol beats to enforce things such as helmet laws, the ban on bicycles in the skate park’s concrete bowls, and so on.

With a budget slash that cut the department’s roster almost in half, however, the skate park will no longer be part of a regular patrol.

Rather, Watson told the Town Council on March 6 that he would like to have video surveillance.

“It’s when you have an ongoing series of problems, that’s when it’s beneficial,” he said. “We don’t have a dispatch center and we don’t have anybody sitting somewhere that’s going to be watching a monitor.

“The real benefit of it is that we would put a monitor in a couple of places in the police station that would be visible to anybody there, so if there were a serious crime that would occur, whether the park was open or not, we’d have it recorded and it would assist in the apprehension and prosecution of a suspect.”

The same is true at the Village, which a cop used to patrol but also has been deleted from the workflow.

Current cameras, some of which over the years fell into disrepair, have now been fixed and upgraded, and moved to more strategic locations.

Any cameras at the Skate Park would be new installations, although Watson said he could not pin down a cost at this point.

But, he said, he knows first-hand that they work.

“In the city in Southern California where I was Police Chief before (South Pasadena), we had a skate park and we put in a surveillance system.

“What was recorded was broadcast in our dispatch center and it was successful in reducing the need to respond routinely to check on activities there. Someone could observe it and then if there were a problem going on, such as a whole lot of kids riding without helmets, we’d know about it.

Watson said so far, the most serious situations frequently involve the ongoing battle between members of the bike crowd, who use the park illegally, and the skateboarders, for whom the park was built in the first place.

As for the piece of the town ordinance requiting helmets, Watson could only sigh, “That’s being broken every single day.”