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City Tests AI Cameras to Deter Unwanted Behavior

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By Jorge Casuso

April 17, 2023 -- The City of Santa Monica will soon begin testing the use of AI-equipped cameras to monitor "unwanted incidents" at the Main Library and issue parking tickets along the bus route to LAX.

The two pilot programs will use cameras provided by Netwatch and Hayden AI, two companies vying for clients in the highly competitive AI monitoring field, according to a report released by the Department of Transportation Friday.

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The pilot program at the Main Library will use "strategically placed" cameras" that provide live feeds "monitored 24 hours a day by the pilot vendor’s trained staff," according to the report to the City Council.

The system is meant to "help deter trespassing or crimes such as theft or vandalism" that take place "especially during hard-to-staff graveyard shifts or after business hours," said the report from Transportation Director Edward King.

The staff monitoring the five wireless cameras will "engage with intruders" through two loudspeakers placed in "two highly trafficked areas."

The intruders are told "to leave the premises immediately or law enforcement will be called," King wrote. "The warning is repeated as needed until the person leaves or law enforcement arrives.

"In most cases, the individuals leave quickly and do not return," King said.

The data gathered is stored onsite for 30 days and in the cloud for an additional 14 days and is "securely deleted" once it is "no longer needed," according to the report.

"Both cloud and onsite firewalls are deployed as security measures to protect networks and systems from unauthorized access, hacking, and other security threats," according to the report.

The system will be tested for two months to determine whether "a relatively small number of actively monitored cameras could, over time, reduce the number of after-hours incidents on City property," King said.

"If the pilot data from the Library shows a reduction in incidents, a procurement process for a proactive video monitoring solution for City properties, including the more densely populated Downtown parking structures, may be initiated," the report said.

The other pilot program will install automated, AI-powered camera systems on two BBB buses operating on Route 3 and Rapid 3 service on Lincoln Boulevard.

The equipment -- provided by Hayden AI at no cost for 45 days --
will "scan bus lanes and bus stop zones" and "detect vehicles parked in designated no-parking zones," King said.

A "forward-facing context camera and a license plate reading (LPR) camera" will be placed "behind the front windshield of the bus along with a computing box in the bus’s electrical cabinet and an antenna on the roof of the bus," King said.

"Sample evidence packages of violations will be shared with the Santa Monica Police Department’s Traffic Services Division," King said.

If the pilot data shows the technology "could help improve transit safety and efficiency," staff could "initiate a competitive procurement process for this technology," King said.

Privacy advocates argue that the use of AI-equipped cameras that recognize a person's physical characteristics to alert security authorities constitutes "invasive surveillance."

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