By Edwin Folven, 3/15/2012
When a crime is committed, private outdoor surveillance cameras can enable police to get a license number or a suspect description, and can ultimately be a deciding factor in whether the crime is solved.
But locating surveillance cameras is a continuous challenge for detectives, who currently must comb neighborhoods around crime scenes to determine whether surveillance cameras exist in the area and who owns them, before they can even get started determining whether there is any valuable information contained on the footage.
Officers at the Los Angeles Police Department Wilshire Division are trying to shorten the time it takes to find private surveillance cameras, and are in the process of cataloging as many locations as possible. Officer Geoffrey Taff, of the Wilshire Division’s Community Relations Office, said patrol officers have been fanning out to mark the camera locations when they are not involved in regular duties, but the process has been tedious, and so far only locations on Pico and Venice boulevards have been identified. Taff is asking property owners in the Wilshire area to voluntarily notify the police about the locations of their cameras so a database can be created that detectives can easily access.
“It’s hard to say how many are out there, because every time a crime occurs, we find a new one. It’s possibly in the thousands,” Taff said. “We are hitting the boulevards right now. I’d say we have identified sixty or seventy cameras. We are getting e-mails from residents and businesses, but what we want people to know is that if a crime occurs two doors down, their camera might have captured information that could be helpful. The ultimate goal is to identify suspects and get quicker response on arrests.”
Taff said the program is completely voluntary, and police would not have any ability to view real-time footage. Currently, the plan is only to create a map that would enable detectives to find the cameras and contact owners.
“We are not looking into tapping into anyone’s cameras,” Taff added. “It would be something we would contact the owner about after the fact.”
Lt. Bryan Wong, head of detectives at the Wilshire Division, said the program would be an additional tool that investigators can use to solve crimes. He added that it would also be a big time saver, and would help him manage resources when crimes occur.
“Say there is a traffic collision or a robbery, if we know where the cameras are, we can piece together all the videos and can generate clues about who is committing the crimes,” Wong said. “It’s not going to solve everything, but I believe it could help bolster our investigations. It’s technology that wasn’t there in years past. It comes down to the quality of the video and what the video captures, but it is certainly a great tool.”
Taff used the example of auto burglaries and property thefts as primary crimes that surveillance cameras could help solve. He said the program is being modeled after a similar effort in the LAPD’s Southwest and Pacific Divisions, where a reserve officer is working with personnel to develop a list of camera locations.
“I hope to at least identify the cameras in the next few months,” Taff said. “Once we have the program designed, we will go to the neighborhood councils. We are also contacting the public to see who would want to get involved.”
Anyone who wishes to be a part of the program can contact Taff in the Wilshire Division’s Community Relations Office at (213)473-0100, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.