Police help or privacy concern? Some agencies asking neighbors for access to home security camera footage

Kettering police want residents who have home security cameras to register them to help officers gather evidence and solve crimes.

The effort is the latest example of how area cities are using home surveillance systems as valuable tools for fighting crimes.

“Burglaries, property crimes … a camera can obviously catch anything, but those are probably the primary things that we’re concerned about,” said officer Joe Ferrell of the Kettering Police Department.

The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office recently started a voluntary surveillance system database to capitalize on cameras belonging to homeowners and businesses. Middletown police also launched a home security registration effort.

Cameras can collect evidence law enforcement could use to solve crimes across the county, said Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson.

“If somebody two blocks down has their house broken into, you may not even know that you caught the getaway car going away from it,” Wilson said. “Cameras across the county catch images every day that could help police solves crimes in every community.”

Even if a homeowner or business registers cameras, they could still decline to turn over any requested footage to police — the programs are voluntary.

MORE: Home surveillance nabs neighbor in Kettering burglary

If a crime were reported in a Kettering neighborhood, the new initiative would allow police to know which people to call for potential footage.

“This idea came about since we’ve had several instances where video evidence was captured on home security or doorbell cameras and the crime was solved due to that video,” Ferrell said.

“We can call that homeowner and say, ‘Hey, we had a car theft or a break-in or some property crime … it was near your address and we’re kind of wondering if your cameras picked up any of that footage so we can maybe get a suspect,’ ” Ferrell said.

Supplying police with surveillance camera footage has its drawbacks, according to University of Dayton professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister, who feels that there are legal issues that residents should be aware of.

“You are allowing the police to become big brother, and with that there are pluses and minuses,” he explained. “It takes away the Fourth Amendment concern because you’ve agreed to allow the police to do this. When you grant them this access, then there is no limitation to what they can do with this information, and that is what you have to be careful about.”

Another concern residents should have, according to Hoffmeister, is how long police can store the video footage and exactly who will have access to it.

“To me that is kind of problematic. It is one thing if it is just your property, but another thing if the camera is pointed outside to a public area and people don’t know if they are being recorded,” he said.

MORE: SURVEILLANCE: Kettering home invasion suspects charged

Residents have been willing to take part. Within 15 minutes of posting the Kettering initiative on Facebook, police there received five phone calls about it.

“We thought it would be a great idea to reach out to our citizens and explain our plan to register anyone’s home security cameras with our department,” Ferrell said. “That info would be gathered and will eventually be added to our crime mapping software.”

One Kettering man knows firsthand that surveillance systems can work. After one burglary, the man, who wanted only to use his first name, Russ, installed a home surveillance system in case a thief struck again.

It did happen again, but this time the thief — who turned out to be an 18-year-old who lived nearby — was caught on camera inside a home.

“The first time we got broken into, it was just devastating because you don’t feel safe in your own home,” said the homeowner.

He invested $500 into a home surveillance system, which police say solved the crime.

The new program has an online registration form on the city of Kettering web page. Officials are hoping more residents will sign on. For information, call Kettering police at 937-296-2555.

MORE: Criminals under surveillance: Kettering police ask residents to register cameras

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