If you’re in public, you’re probably on camera. The city of Troy is embarking on a new initiative called "SafeCam," geared to take advantage of private camera systems by incorporating them into the city's plan to solve crimes and other urban mysteries.
Most large cities have their own camera systems in place, sometimes networking observation cams in high-crime areas with traffic cameras, but even all those extra eyes can't record everything.
Optimized SafeCam systems increase the number of cameras available to authorities. Mayor Patrick Madden explains it's essentially a registration program. "A lot of people have cameras on the outside of their homes or businesses to keep an eye on things, and what they would do is register those cameras with the Troy Police Department, so if an incident were to occur in their neighborhood, whether it be a crime or even an auto accident, that police could double-check the list and see if there are any cameras in that area from which they might draw some evidence to help with solving the crime."
Whatever the medium — tape, disk, chip or USB— any type of system employing a camera and a recording device qualifies for inclusion. "We'd been kicking it around for awhile. I'm not sure whose idea it was initially. We have weekly meetings with the police chiefs and it came up in one of those discussions."
Cameras capture all sorts of questionable activities. They've proven their worth in Springfield, Massachusetts, as WAMC reported in 2012: The Upper Worthington Historic District was once a neighborhood under siege with high crime and extensive blight. Now, crime numbers have dropped as more than 350 security cameras monitor all common areas and the grounds surrounding each building.
And when illegal dumping got out of control in 2014, Springfield put cameras in trees to catch violators. The program has been so successful, Mayor Domenic Sarno called it a priority: " This is sending the message that we will continue to be vigilant when it comes to illegal dumping, which is just so disrespectful to the areas of the city where it is being done."
Back in Troy, Mayor Madden says it’s easy to sign on to the voluntary SafeCam program. "It's actually pretty simple. There's just a link on the police department website that says 'register your camera,' and you can go there and sign up for it. Basically, that's all there is to it. We'll create a database out of that and like I say, when something happens at a particular address we'll see what's in proximity to that, and we'll reach out to those people and see if we can take a look at the information on their cameras."
Unlike police dashcam and body camera systems, there is no need to purchase large amounts of storage space for SafeCam video files. Investigators isolate and extract whatever footage is needed from the private source. The program is running in several major cities including Buffalo and New Orleans, where it is credited with making streets safer.