New York County Wants Access to Privately Owned Security Cameras

The initiative, known as Operation SafeCam, will help law enforcement in Niagara County access citizens-owned surveillance cameras during investigations.

by Rick Pfeiffer, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal / January 22, 2018
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(TNS) — It’s a long shot, but it’s a lead.

Frames of video, captured by a security camera mounted on the outside of a business about a block from the intersection of 24th Street and Pine Avenue have provided the best clues so far as Niagara Falls Police search for the driver of a white Chevy Tahoe. Investigators believe the vehicle was involved in a hit-and-run accident Friday afternoon that has left a 57-year-old man in critical condition.

The ability for law enforcement to tap into the city’s vast array of privately owned and operated security and surveillance cameras, both in business districts and residential areas, is at the heart of an effort being spearheaded by Niagara County District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek.

Debuted in August as Operation SafeCam, Wojtaszek admits the rollout has been a bit slow.

“We had a flood of calls when we first announced,” the district attorney said. “But now it’s died down a little.”

The concept of Operation SafeCam is to get residents and businesses, with video cameras on their property, to share their video streams with the intelligence analysts at the Niagara Intelligence and Crime Analysis Center (NICAC). The super high-tech facility is located at Falls police headquarters.

Oversized video screens cover one wall of the facility and currently provide streaming video from cameras owned by the city and the Falls School District. Wojtaszek wants to expand the reach of law enforcement’s high-tech eyes.

“We are looking to increase our security camera database,” she said. “Our goal is to blanket the county with cameras. They’re a proven weapon in fighting crime.”

It’s an ambitious goal, the DA admits. In the Falls, ground zero for kicking off the program, Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto said there has been movement.

“I know we have signed up some (private cameras),” DalPorto said. “I think we’ve made steady progress. You want it to work right, so slow and steady is the way to go.”

In announcing the Safe Cam plan, Wojtaszek pointed to a similar, and highly successful initiative in Buffalo. Police brass there stressed the importance of aggressively reaching out to businesses and neighbors to get them to bring their cameras on-line.

Wojtaszek and DalPorto both said they’ll preview a plan to do that to city block club leaders at a retreat this weekend.

“Then comes the spring, we’ll ask the block club (members) and community police officers to hit the streets to begin signing people up,” Wojtaszek said.

DalPorto said security and surveillance camera video is playing an ever-increasing role in the investigation of crime. Wojtaszek noted that the identification of a recent murder suspect was aided by video from a convenience store security camera.

“It’s really been a game changer in how cases are investigated and prosecuted,” the DA said.

And Buffalo police have credited their network of public and private cameras with the quick arrest of a Wheatfield man in September who is accused of critically injuring a woman in a hit-and-run accident.

“The witnesses gave us a good description of the car,” Buffalo Police Lt. Jeff Rinaldo said. “And we pulled up some video (from nearby police surveillance cameras). Four hours (after the crash) we had him in custody on the east side.”

Rinaldo said, “It was both city cameras and private cameras (that led cops to their suspect). I’m not saying we wouldn’t have solved the case without the cameras but it would have been much more difficult.

“I think the video was instrumental to the arrest.”

©2018 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.