[click each image for a larger view]
Over the last few weeks I have noticed an increase in the number of instances of vandalism, graffiti and tagging at the MVTA’s flagship $21 million transit station in Apple Valley. While Apple Valley’s Mayor Mary once noted that the $21 million transit station has “piqued the curiosity of residents,” it has also piqued the curiosity of taggers and vandals looking to exploit its $98,700 security camera system.
As you can see from the four instances of graffiti/tagging and vandalism above, Apple Valley’s newest transit station is suffering from some serious issues in police/security coverage and attempted prosecution of individuals committing these crimes. While the MVTA has posted signs noting lot is under surveillance, it’s only 50% true.
After reporting the four instances seen above to the MVTA I contacted them and asked them a serious of questions about the cost and use of the video surveillance system, the MVTA’s attempts to bring the vandals to justice, and what they plan to do in the future to keep these sort of events to a minimum (I have edited the MVTA’s responses for length but you can view them in their entirety here):
Q: What was the original intention of installing the cameras being that they are of little use in prosecuting offenders?
A: Even if the cameras had captured the vandal in the act of spray painting or tagging the column and wall, the video may or may not have assisted in identifying and charging the person, and most likely would not have resulted in prosecution by local authorities.
They’re right, the video evidence may not help bring the criminals committing these offense to justice but it’s clear from their response that they have done nothing to even try. Being that the Apple Valley Police Department is even using a blog to try and disseminate photos of suspects committing crime in the city in an attempt to bring them to justice, you would think an attempt would at least be a start.
Q: The most recent report of defacement I reported was right under two cameras (presumably one points towards the door and the other towards the garage). Being that this particular placement was clearly in view of the cameras and should be able to spot those at fault I would like to see /all/ of the video feeds provided to the AVPD as part of the MVTA’s police report on these issues.
A: The defaced areas were repaired, and MVTA staff continues to monitor the site for vandalism and crime. In the case of the graffiti in question, the cameras are recording the drive lanes into and out of the parking deck, they are not recording the exact two locations where the vandalism was found.
Robin Selvig, the MVTA’s Customer Service Manager and the person tasked with responding to my inquiry ignores the two other acts of vandalism to which I refer in the e-mail. The photo above which shows the AVTS sign and the anti-Semitic hate speech, is covered by two cameras and there is absolutely no way that these two cameras (based on their locations direct adjacent to each other on the ceiling of the open-air skyway between the AVTS and the parking deck) are covering the in and out lanes. Ms. Selvig is clearly confused due to her misunderstanding of the layout of AVTS’s surveillance system. While she informed me in a prior e-mail that she contacted their Facilities Manager to answer some of the questions, it’s clear that she should have put me in direct contact with that individual so that I could have my questions answered properly and factually instead of in Public Relations-speak.
Q: Are there plans for increased patrols either by the AVPD or MVTA staff?
A: The MVTA hired a student for part of the summer to be on site during afternoon peak-period hours to patrol the site. We have also gotten information on the cost of hiring off-duty Apple Valley police officers. Unfortunately, funding is an issue. Customer service, operations and facilities staff are on site periodically during the day and week.
Additionally, we are awaiting a proposal from the original signage manufacturer to replace all the ‘stud-mounted’ signage (built and installed per the architect’s specs) with ‘flush-mounted’ signage that will be more difficult to deface and/or remove.
Now, I have already informed the MVTA of my comments regarding the student they hired to “patrol” the site. The individual, in my numerous times seeing him throughout the summer, would stand between the AVTS’s skyway over Cedar and the parking deck and make certain the door was open for people exiting one skyway and entering the other. He served no security function as he was never in the parking deck where the majority of the vandalism occurred nor was he ever even facing the parking deck.
I also find it hilarious that Robin Selvig claims MVTA operations and facilities staff patrols the site “periodically” as it is my own reports of the vandalism which prompted their clean up and not those of anyone in the MVTA. It’s not as if I was going out of my way to notice these things as I was only taking my usual routes through the parking lot/deck to and from the bus when I came across these problems. If the MVTA’s “periodical” sweeps were often enough we wouldn’t even be talking about this now.
Overall I am disgusted with the MVTA’s handling of this situation and their lack of appropriate use of a near $100,000 surveillance system. While they feel that spending $80 to clean up the vandalism (plus whatever it will cost to replace and upgrade the signage so it can’t be as easily removed in the future) is a much more worthwhile expenditure than actually utilizing the very expensive camera/DVR system at the Apple Valley Transit Station, I believe they are wasting more of our money than necessary.
While my request to see the video feeds from the cameras in the transit station were ignored I already have a followup request to view them. I want to see what $98,700 worth of video equipment looks like. While I am not a surveillance professional I have a feeling that if I viewed the cameras, knowing where the subsequent graffiti ended up, I’d be able to tell in an instant if it was at all worth the taxpayer’s money to install the system in the first place–especially when it’s not currently being used for anything which it should be.
What do you think about the vandalism at AVTS and the MVTA’s response to it? Do you think that they should be doing more to be proactive about this problem or is fixing the issues, as they are reported by the public, a much better option? Is the $98,700 video surveillance system underutilized? Whatever you have to say about this go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.