CEDAR RAPIDS — From thefts to homicides, when law enforcement officers respond to a crime scene, one of the first things they do is check for nearby cameras that may have captured the crime.
Whether the images are from witnesses’ cellphones, ATM cameras or home security systems, cameras have come to play a pivotal role in police investigations, no matter the severity of the crime.
That’s why the Cedar Rapids Police Department is asking residents to register their private security cameras, so when a crime occurs, investigators will know where and how many cameras are in the area.
Sgt. Laura Faircloth said the program is intended to save investigators time hunting down cameras that may have captured a crime scene.
“This is a completely voluntary program,” she said. “For those who register their cameras, the basic information that they are asked to submit will be stored in a database that we created and control. That way, when something does happen, investigators don’t have to search for cameras — they can access the database from their in-car computers and see what cameras are in the area.”
Registering a camera does not give the police department remote access to the footage, Faircloth said. If investigators found a camera that may have recorded an incident and wanted to collect the footage, they would still need the camera’s owner to provide a copy of the recording.
“The only thing this database would do is let officers check to see what cameras are in the area, where they are and who owns them,” she said.
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Faircloth said the police department asks those who choose to register their cameras to only do so if the cameras are set to record public areas, such as sidewalks, front yards, alleyways and streets.
“We do not want any cameras that record private space, such as the inside of a person’s home,” she said.
Faircloth said residential cameras are not expected to meet any kind of system, quality or format requirements.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple doorbell camera or a state-of-the-art private surveillance system,” she said. “All we’re hoping to do here is get a better idea of the tools that are available to investigators when a crime occurs and save our officers time when it comes to hunting down possible investigative leads.”
Faircloth said the program was rolled out early last week and, so far, more than 100 residents have registered their security systems.
“I think that just goes to show how much residents care about this community and that they really do support the police department and want to help the police do their jobs and keep the community safe,” she said.
Those who wish to register their cameras can do so online through the police departments website, at cedar-rapids.org/police.
Once a camera is registered, Faircloth said, the owner's information will be stored in a secure database, and once a year an email will be sent out asking owners to update their information or give them the option to “opt out” and be removed from the database should they choose.
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Over the past decade or so, Faircloth said camera footage has proved to be a valuable tool in police investigations and is used to solve every kind of crime.
“Almost all of our investigations now involve some type of camera footage, these days,” she said. “We’ve used home security cameras to solve anything from a porch theft to a homicide, and I can honestly say there are some crimes we might not have been solved without the footage from a homeowner’s private security system.”
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