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LONG BEACH - From broken windows to loitering, Mario Nasab has dealt with his share of security issues at La Traviata, a restaurant he first opened on Cedar Avenue in 1997.
"It's been vulnerable to vandalism," Nasab said. "I've seen a lot of changes and it's much safer and cleaner, but downtown has had some issues with security. The mere fact that we'll have cameras, people will behave."
After a year-long effort, business officials on Wednesday signed a $300,000 contract with Signal Hill-based Platt Security to install dozens of wireless security cameras throughout downtown.
With the installation, police will be able to expand their surveillance to the area bordering 10th Street, Shoreline Drive, Long Beach Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue.
The first phase of the rollout included 60 cameras paid for by the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as the Downtown Long Beach Associates. The cameras will complement the 23 cameras already in place on Pine Avenue and other downtown thoroughfares. Construction is expected to begin in the next 30 days, officials said. It will be among the largest rollouts of security cameras in the city, CVB President and CEO Steve Goodling said.
"We wanted to give the Police Department better tools for capture and conviction. With the events that have happened around the world, we wanted to have better coverage," said Goodling, who referred specifically to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15.
"Cameras were so critical there in solving those issues. We're being proactive to ensure that we are maintaining our downtown."
Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, who represents the 1st District where many of the cameras will be installed, said they are important for the Police Department and will help strengthen crime-fighting in the city.
"I think it's important to note that we already have a lot of cameras downtown," he said. "This isn't a new project per se. It's an expansion of the camera system we have. We have seen over the last three years violent crime continues to decrease, not only downtown, but throughout the city, and I think this is going to help our police officers monitor downtown in a new way."
As co-chairs of the CVB's Tourism Community Policing effort, International City Bank CEO Jane Netherton and The Varden Hotel owner Larry Black approached business owners about installing the cameras and found that they wanted to participate.
"Everything that happens in downtown affects our tourism," Netherton said.
With businesses looking into installing their own cameras, the number of cameras could grow to about 110 by year's end, Goodling said.
"With this momentum, hopefully we will double what we have today," he said.
Civil rights groups say the prevalence of surveillance cameras has fostered a dangerous apathy in Americans, who are allowing the government to intrude further into their privacy at an alarming rate.
"It's too bad the city has moved into an electronic concentration camp," said John W. Whitehead, founder of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights group.
Whitehead said surveillance cameras don't prevent crime as much as they displace it to other areas, where the cameras aren't installed.
"And eventually (the government says) you have to have the cameras there," Whitehead said. "The problem is when the government takes them over and does surveillance, you enter a whole new realm. Where we're heading is a total surveillance society."
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell defended the use of cameras.
"We don't use them for purposes other than in aiding the investigation of crimes," he said. "These cameras are placed in public spaces where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy."
Last year, McDonnell and Mayor Bob Foster announced the launch of a new program, Long Beach Common Operating Picture, or Long Beach COP, which links the Police Department's communications center to about 400 public and privately owned cameras citywide.
"It's a tremendous tool for us," McDonnell said.
McDonnell also pointed to the quick arrest and killing of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
"It saved hundreds of hours of investigation and probably saved a lot of lives," he said.