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What they're thinking: Surveillance camera registration could help Marion police

Having access to private video footage can aid investigations

A security camera is shown atop a building in northeast Cedar Rapids. Marion police this month started a program where business and homeowners can register their outdoor surveillance cameras, which could aid police in investigation of a crime. Cedar Rapids police started a similar program in March. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A security camera is shown atop a building in northeast Cedar Rapids. Marion police this month started a program where business and homeowners can register their outdoor surveillance cameras, which could aid police in investigation of a crime. Cedar Rapids police started a similar program in March. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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MARION — Earlier this month, the Marion Police Department unveiled a new program inviting city residents and businesses to register their surveillance camera systems so investigators know who might have camera footage when a crime occurs.

Cedar Rapids police unveiled a similar initiative in March.

The goal, said Marion Lt. Scott Elam, is to create a database that lists the locations of cameras so investigators can easily see what cameras are in an area and request that footage.

Q: Tell us about the camera registration program.

A: We had talked about it some time back, and we knew that Cedar Rapids had started a similar program.

Surveillance video plays a large role in many of today’s investigations. We could be talking about a shoplifting incident, all the way up to a homicide.

More and more businesses and homeowners are installing their own systems. So, we thought if we could map the cameras, it would make it easier for our investigators to locate and obtain the footage.

Q: How does the program work?

A: It’s really simple. Anyone looking to register their cameras can just go on the Marion Police Department website, click on the Security Camera Registration link and fill out the form.

The form just asks for basic information like the name, address and contact information, the number of cameras they have and how long they store the footage. That information will then enable us to create a database and map those camera locations.

Q: What happens if an owner does not want to register their cameras or share footage?

A: Nothing. The program is completely voluntary.

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Registering your cameras with the police department does not give us direct access to the cameras. We won’t be able to turn them on or control them or whatever else people might be concerned about.

We only want residents to register their cameras if the cameras are outside the homes. We are not interested in indoor cameras.

If a crime does occur in the area and they do not want to share the footage, they are not required to. That said, we would likely go through the proper legal channels to obtain that footage if we thought it was important enough to an investigation.

But registering the cameras alone would not automatically give us access to the footage.

Q: What has been the public response so far?

A: We’ve already had more than 60 businesses and residents register so far, so I think people are open to the idea. I think, in general, people want what is best for their communities, and this is one way they can step up and help.

Q: Ultimately, what are the police department’s expectations for the program?

A: Ultimately, I think it will help us solve crimes and improve efficiency.

We can’t do it alone. We can’t solve crimes by ourselves. We rely on the public — and we are pretty lucky to have such great community support — and this is another way to help.

When a crime occurs, there is evidence to collect and witness and suspect interviews to sort through. And, one of the first things we would usually do is check the surrounding buildings for cameras.

But, if we had those cameras already mapped out with the contact information of the owner, that simplifies the process — we could just look at the map and see there are, say, four cameras in that area and then contact those owners.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we wouldn’t still have to canvass the area, but I do think it could be a helpful tool in the investigation process.

Q: How valuable is video footage to an investigation?

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A: It can be vital. Video or even still photos can help investigators identify potential suspects or vehicles that may be involved. Most footage is time- and date-stamped, which can help us create a timeline of events.

And I think that because cameras are so prevalent now, people expect there to be video somewhere.

We recently investigated a residential burglary and because a neighbor had a surveillance system and we were able to get that footage, we were able to identify the car belonging to the suspect.

Chances are, if the investigating officer had not checked the nearby residences for cameras, we might not have been able to make an arrest.

So surveillance footage can prove to be a very valuable tool.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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