Middletown and West Chester police are using smart technology doorbells and outdoor video systems to catch criminals, and they hope residents in their communities will expand the effort.
West Chester police last week asked people in the township with a security camera or a doorbell camera, such as Ring, Nest or Blink, to fill out a questionnaire from a smartphone or computer indicating they have those cameras.
Then a video or picture can quickly be shared with responding officers who will know what the criminal looks like before they get to the scene, officials said.
“They are not necessarily the victim of the crime. We could reach out to them to see if a car or person was caught on camera during an investigation,” said West Chester Lt. Dave Tivin.
In a recent cases, a porch package thief was caught on camera and the video was sent to the officer as he was approaching the house.
“So as he is approaching the scene, he already knows who he his looking for,” Tivin said. “We see it as a force multiplier. The days of us just relying on our eyes to see what is going on is over with all this technology.”
He said there was some hesitation, but the program is voluntary and in most cases an officer will ask the resident to view the video to see what was captured. Approximately 150 people registered as of Thursday.
“What we will do is let people know an incident has happened and ask if they can review the footage to see if the captured anything,” he said.
Images captured on doorbell and security cameras have been used in cases “as minor as a car breaking and as major as a homicide,” Tivin said.
Middletown Police Maj. David Birk said the department has been doing the same thing for a few months. To date, 63 cameras have been registered, according to Shelley Meehan, communication and records supervisor.
Birk said he is also looking to take the use of the innovative Ring cameras one step further for a surveillance of sorts.
“I have been looking into purchasing some of them then placing them in areas where surveillance is needed or there is problem, with the understanding that we can have whatever it picks up.” Birk said. “I know other departments out have have done it.”
Birk termed the technology “ingenious” and a much more cost-effective tool than officers assigned to watch a neighborhood for a thief or burglar.
Outdoor security cameras have also been useful. The Decemebr 2018 shooting death of Benny Barefield he sat in care outside his house in Middletown was captured on his own home security camera.
In the region, Riverside and Kettering police have started similar security camera registration programs.
Hamilton police do not have a camera registration program, but Sgt. Rich Burkhardt said officers often respond to calls from residents who see suspicious activity through a doorbell camera.
“They call 911 and we respond lots of times (when) they aren’t even home, they are seeing the crime on their camera,” Burkhardt said.
Butler County Sheriff Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said there has been some discussion about a registration program, which could happen in the future.
“With it being voluntary, I just don’t know how many people will do it, so you have to weigh to determine if it is worth the effort,” Dwyer said.
A Middletown resident, Dwyer estimates there are “thousands” in just his neighborhood.
“Cameras and technology is creating a problem for criminals,” he said.