With a proliferation of home security cameras popping up on front porches everywhere, the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office is harnessing what could be a valuable crime-solving tool.
The Sheriff's Office has started a volunteer registry of those who own security cameras, making it easier for law enforcement investigating crimes to quickly contact people who might have captured video that could provide leads.
"If we know there are three or four cameras in a neighborhood, that's who we'll go to first," said Sheriff Marty Kelly. "It will save us time, save taxpayers' money and hopefully solve some cases that we might not solve."
Across the country, security cameras have caught criminals in the act — from package thefts to even a homicide in Rochester, Minn. More often, however, home and business security cameras provide bits of information such as capturing the make and model of a car that may have been used in a crime or the direction of travel of a missing vulnerable adult.
Traditionally, investigators go door-to-door to interview people about what they might have seen and determine if they have a security camera that might have captured an incident.
"It's time-consuming," said Sgt. Ted Berg with the Blaine Police Department, which started a security camera registry a couple of years ago. "You could knock on 10 doors and maybe only talk to two people."
A registry that pinpoints where security cameras are and who owns them is more efficient in reaching people. So far, Blaine has registered about 500 cameras, including multiple cameras owned by some.
Law enforcement has no direct access to the registered security cameras. The registry is voluntary, as is whether a homeowner provides information from the video or the video itself, Berg said. If people change their minds, they can remove their cameras from the registry.
"We don't expect any camera footage by itself will solve a crime," Berg said "It's rare that we get the great still photo of the person committing a crime standing in front of the camera."
But video footage can provide a time frame for a crime especially when it occurs at 3 a.m. when no one is around. "Most of the time we're just looking for a step in the right direction," Berg said.
So far, Blaine's registry hasn't been used to solve a crime but that's not the only reason for it, Berg said. It helps people feel that they're making their neighborhoods safer, he said.
Even without the registry, homeowners in the north-metro suburb have provided police with their security camera video to help nab porch pirates, crooks breaking into cars and even those who violate restraining orders.
"That video could be critical in proving that someone was there," Berg said. "You pull up a picture in the courtroom for a jury to see and that's a powerful thing."
Having video evidence is almost expected because cameras have become ubiquitous — from doorbell cameras to the cellphone in everyone's pocket, he added.
Back in Goodhue County, the security camera registry that began late last year hasn't yet been used to solve a crime. For people like Jason Johnson, a Goodhue County Sheriff patrol sergeant and Pine Island City Council member, video from his own doorbell camera that he registered has mostly captured wandering deer, a late-night walker and a loitering raccoon.
Still, he and others in Goodhue County expect the registry will be a useful tool in solving crime. "I'm surprised more communities don't do this," Sheriff Kelly said.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788