Ill. police set to start camera program with public

Residents in Ill. cities can join a voluntary program which registers their private cameras to help out police


Crystal Thomas
The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Springfield will soon join several Illinois cities that have a voluntary program in which residents can register their private cameras to help out police.

Police Chief Kenny Winslow told the City Council this past week that the registration will be available through the Springfield Police Department's website in February.

Residents who own private exterior cameras would enter information, like their address and a way to contact them, into a portal on the website. That information would be uploaded into a spreadsheet, which would plot all of the registered private security cameras on a map. Police officers would have access to this information and would be able to contact camera owners afterward if a crime occurred nearby.

"We can send an alert via email or have detectives just call," Winslow said.

Winslow said the camera owners would be able to send in the footage through evidence.com, which is an encrypted hosting site that the city already uses. Or, a police officer could review the footage with the homeowner.

Winslow said police are more likely to apprehend a suspect if they get information quickly after a crime. Plus, Winslow said the camera network could act as a deterrent to crime happening in the first place.

"It will hopefully lead to more investigatory leads on crimes, or hopefully a better apprehension rate or maybe even a reduction (in crime)," Winslow said. "We just have to figure it out how to better market it to have good participation."

Unlike some cities, Winslow said the department decided that going through a third-party vendor to host the registration was not cost-effective. The portal was made in-house by the city's information systems division.

Several Illinois cities like Chicago, Belleville, O'Fallon, Bloomington and Edwardsville have registrations.

Bloomington has had the program since 2016. It takes two to five minutes to fill out the form on its website, according to its police department's spokesman, Officer John Fermon.

Fermon said he couldn't say exactly how many cameras are registered, but he said it was a small percentage of Bloomington's 80,000 residents.

The registration is used as a "supplementary" tool to ongoing investigations.

In more serious crimes, police will have already committed to a door-to-door neighborhood canvass, Fermon said. Participation from the public when they hear about homicides can already be high, he added.

"Usually if a crime occurs, especially in Bloomington, a lot of people will call and say, 'Hey, do you guys need video?'" Fermon said.

The registration comes in handy in crimes like burglary and battery, where not as many resources may be available.

A registration was rolled out through the Edwardsville Police Department in June. So far, 35 people with cameras have signed up, according to Lt. Mike Lybarger. Every time the department posts about the program on social media like Facebook, a few more people sign up, he said.

"We stress it's a voluntary program," Lybarger said. "We don't want to log into your system. We just want to know you have a system."

The registration was part of a presentation to city council this week about the police department's proposed budget. Aldermen seemed receptive to the idea.

"This is something that's being widely asked for by our neighborhood associations and will be a positive for the city," said Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin.

In an interview, McMenamin said a few neighborhood associations in his ward have already created lists of home security cameras and shared them with their neighborhood police officer. A citywide effort would be more helpful, McMenamin said.

He, too, has noticed more exterior cameras. He said he has encountered cameras that doubled as doorbells while dropping off meals on Meals on Wheels.

McMenamin cited a December shooting, in which a man got out of his car and opened fire on a car near Leland and Wiggins avenues, wounding a 26-year-old man. A camera capturing a license plate of the shooter's car in that instance would have helped, McMenamin said.

Winslow said no one incident prompted the need for a registration. Rather, it is a reaction to the higher number of private security cameras in the city.

"We've seen a proliferation of private security cameras throughout our city," Winslow said. "We know that more and more, as the price comes down, people are installing them."

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©2019 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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