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Wednesday 16 October 2019
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Technology Brings Police, Residents Together in 21st-Century Neighborhood Watch Programs

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Police in some communities are setting up ways for residents who have security cameras to share video footage when incidents happen in the neighborhood. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Neighborhood watch is getting a 21st-century makeover.

As home security systems keep an eye on the street, at least two suburban police forces and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office are asking residents to share video footage when an incident occurs nearby.

“This is the future of how to communicate to the police and help us solve crimes,” said Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson.

The department has an agreement with Ring Alarm Security where it can request that the company send an email to residents in a certain area and ask them to contact police if an incident has occurred and video footage may be helpful. Brighton Police do not have access to customer accounts.

The Irondequoit Police Department has asked residents and business owners who’d be willing to share footage to fill out a form that registers their cameras with the department. The program is voluntary and the police do not have access to a private surveillance system.

Department officials said that video helps to identify suspects and vehicles and leads to solving crimes.

“We’ll obviously still do our neighborhood canvasses to speak with residents about potentially what they saw,” said Irondequoit Police Sgt. Jessica Franco, who advocated for and implemented the town’s Surveillance, Mapping and Reporting Technology (SMART) Camera Program.

“It will make it a lot easier,” she said. “Being able to get information right away (of) who has cameras, those are probably the first people we would go to to get video as soon as possible.”

Working together

Formal police-resident collaborations still are new in the area.

Rochester Police Investigator Frank Camp said the department is looking into some type of partnership with Ring, but nothing has been completed.

A sign proclaiming the premises is protected by Ring. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

In May, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office announced a partnership with Ring, which allows residents with the devices to download an app and receive alerts and updates of activity in their area as well as share videos. Sgt. Providence Crowder said the sheriff’s office has been contacted by the public, but as of early August it had not received any videos.

“It’s a great program with great potential,” she said. “The more people that become active, the more opportunity there will be to interact. So far, it’s still young.”

Video is an adjunct to investigations, but doesn’t replace interviews with neighbors.

Residents have been sharing their videos on their social media accounts for a while but haven’t necessarily looped in their local police. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are learning about different platforms and which may be best for their purposes.

Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan is among those doing his homework. “It’s something we’ll get into probably sooner rather than later. It’s on the to-do list.”

Freshness of the video is a concern for Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode.

“Having that record, which may or may not be up to date as time progresses, is not going to stop us from knocking on the neighborhood doors looking for video. We will always take the time to do a neighborhood canvas looking for witnesses or video footage.”

Webster Police Chief Joseph Rieger said he would like to start an arrangement where residents can let his department know they have video.

“Where these things can be helpful is an incident happened on this street, but you may want to see what someone did five streets down the road,” he said. “If you knew ahead of time that a person had a camera, you could trace that. It’s not the scene all the time you’re looking for. It’s outside areas that might help bring things into where people went (and) came from.”

Same idea, different approach

Henderson said he learned of Ring last year when attending an international conference of police chiefs.

Brighton Police rely on Ring to send out messages to people who have the do-it-yourself system, which ranges from a doorbell camera to a more elaborate setup that operates on Wi-Fi.

Henderson said Brighton Police still knock on doors. But the department has a page on the Ring system, and 10 members of his staff are certified by Ring regarding alerts. When an incident happens, police can draw a circle around the area and send an alert through Ring to registered users within that radius. If a homeowner wants to get involved, that person contacts the police.

“My goal is to build a digital neighborhood watch network,” he said. “If someone has surveillance of a car or what have you, we can use that in our search.”

Henderson said that the day after starting with Ring, the department sent out an alert about a stolen bicycle. The Ring app allows for comments, and he said residents remarked about the all-points bulletin for a bike.

“I want community engagement,” he said. “I want to show we’re being proactive and working to prevent crime and solve crime.”

He said the project is not costing taxpayers anything.

Irondequoit’s SMART Camera Program takes a different approach. Residents with any type of system can register, and the department is building a map of the camera locations. Residents are asked to provide contact information and what the cameras capture – the street, driveway, parking lot or building entrance.

“When we find a camera on a house, we don’t know if it’s a working camera,” she said. “We have to make an effort to contact the homeowner. If we have that information readily available, we can leave them a message.”

Franco said the key is knowing how long a system retains video. “Sometimes it’s a day or two. We need to find these cameras as soon as possible.”

But it’s still up to the person if they want to share the footage.

Once the department gets footage, it works with the Monroe Crime Analysis Center on plotting points on a map. Franco said the license for the mapping software cost $1,200.

Business owners in Irondequoit can register their cameras with the police, in case footage is needed to help investigators. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group.

Irondequoit has been registering cameras since late July. Through the first week of August, about 70 people have registered.

“If people know the police are on top of this and have the ability to collaborate with the community and they’re willing to work with us, it may deter some crime,” Franco said. “It makes our job a little bit easier in being able to go to a map and know where we need to go to to pull video footage that’s going to help solve crimes.”