Many people find such a registration to be an issue for a number of reasons. Even though the Police don’t have direct access to your system, it adds to the “watchful eye of Big Brother” feeling and leaves people uneasy as if their privacy is being invaded. In reality this is not the case. Registrant information is kept confidential. The cameras and what they capture are yours and yours alone. Registering your system says that you are willing to help rid your neighborhood of crime and willing to provide video from your security cameras upon request in the event of a crime.
It does not involve giving the police the ability to freely access your cameras, claim ownership, or dictate the camera system’s function. This is simply a database that will allow a police department to see who might have captured footage related to a crime. Based on the location of the incident, if the PD believes a nearby camera might have captured something of interest, the police can then request the owner if he/she would provide security video from that date and time of the incident. Most importantly, it expedites the retrieval of video evidence that can help in an investigation without having to canvass the nearby areas for cameras. Time is key in apprehending criminals.
The owner of the security system is not obligated to provide anything. By voluntarily registering with the local Police Department, you are implying that you are willing to help. You don’t have to be afraid in the event you cannot share footage because of personal reasons or system malfunction. As explained to us by Sgt. Todd Santiago of the San Ramon Police Department, “No citizens would ever be held liable for a lack of footage, as this program [is] voluntary with citizens consensually allowing us to view their footage, when asked or offered. We expect that by volunteering for this program citizens are willing to share their footage when appropriate.”
You can also withdraw from these programs at any time. Putting “Big Brother” fears aside, these community programs are a win-win.
- Decrease in crime due to deterrence - increased likelihood of being caught
- Decrease in crime leads to increase in property value for homeowners
- Decreased crime leads to increased local economy for businesses. Patrons will want to visit more and, in turn, spend more money at local businesses, which means more jobs for the local economy.
- Saving tax dollars by reducing the time spent on investigations
We contacted several Police Departments across the country that have implemented security camera registration programs, and noticed that they are all implemented with the same core rules: registration is voluntary, does not mean that the PD has access to your security camera recorder, and neither are you obligated to provide video if asked.
In our hometown, the Buffalo Police Department (BPD) is now asking its citizens to assist them in their crime prevention and crime solving efforts. The BPD recently introduced the Buffalo SafeCam program in the beginning of 2015. This program will allow business and home owners to register their surveillance systems with the BPD. This registration process will allow the BPD to easily identify camera systems in the vicinity of a crime scene, and enable them to contact the owner for assistance in obtaining video evidence for their investigation. In many cases this would speed up cases and prosecution, which in turn will save money for the taxpayer by reducing the amount of man hours spent on an investigation.
The SafeCam programs across cities have the same sign-up process and rules. Signing up is a 3 step process online at the program site for your city.
Step 1 - Registration
You may be asked some specifics about your security camera system. Specifically, how many cameras are installed, the video storage capacity of your system, and any other additional information you can or would like to put forward regarding your system. While the site may say something like “Briefly tell us about your system (manufacturer, model, etc.),” we’d suggest giving them as much information as you possibly can as long as it remains relevant. In our own personal experiences with dealing with various law enforcement offices, it’s always better to provide them with too much than too little when helping in an investigation.
Step 2 - Verification
Once your register to be in the SafeCam program, you will be contacted by the Police Department by telephone to verify your contact information. There may even be a site visit to your home or business to verify the information you provided. The process seems simple enough.
Step 3 - “Call of Duty”
After your verification is complete, you will only be contacted “if there is a criminal incident in the vicinity of your security cameras.” If an incident does occur near you, you will likely be contacted by the PD who will then request a copy of video and/or images taken by your security cameras over a designated time period.
In other cities, we’ve seen law enforcement plea for its citizens to “network” their security camera systems; by network, we’re just referring to the type of installation that allows you to access your system via the Internet. The reason for this is so that these law enforcement agencies can have direct access to the system whenever they please. This obviously is a major cause for concern the area of personal privacy. Having said that, the SafeCam programs across the country make absolutely no mention of anything like this. On multiple occasions, the registration page will specify that in the event that video from your cameras is needed, they will contact you using the contact information you’ve provided. There is no mentions of them directly accessing your system whenever they please.
We’ve confirmed this by contacting several police departments, including the Buffalo Police Department, New Orleans SafeCam Administrator, San Ramon Police Department (Citizen’s View Program), and Salt Lake City PD.
The enormous and most obvious benefit the national SafeCam program provides is that law enforcement can now branch out its network of surveillance cameras to that owned by the general public. This means easier and faster access to video footage that can help apprehend criminals, and aid in their prosecution, while ensuring safety of the law-abiding community. As awareness of this program spreads, it also creates a large deterrent against some of these crimes from ever happening. As criminals in the area start to gain knowledge of the fact that there’s suddenly a whole lot more cameras out there they need to worry about, those crimes tend to get rethought.
The side effect of benefits like the above two is that crime ultimately begins to drop over time. As soon as people realize how difficult it has become to get away with something, the only place we can see crime moving on the scale is down. A long term goal of all of this appears to be stimulating the local economy by significantly reducing the amount of crime; the idea being if crime drops, people will flock to these areas.
Let’s not forget the benefit of being able to serve your community. If a crime occurs around your area, you should want to be doing everything you can to make sure those responsible are caught and that it hopefully won’t happen again. Signing up for Safecam or Citizen’s View provides you with a very simple and nearly effortless way of doing this.