White Oak PD deputizes doorbells

New database of contact information aims to streamline investigations – Nowadays, the word ‘surveillance’ quickly conjures up dystopian visions of totalitarian regimes, that “Big Brother is watching” – or, at least, of hours of bad neighbor clips on social media.
Pump the brakes a bit, though, when it comes to White Oak Police Department’s new doorbell camera registration program. It’s mainly about saving time and shoe leather.
The PD announced the initiative on social media last week and quickly secured a score of homeowners eager to do their part and help law enforcement ID suspects who break the law in sight of their private recorders.
First things first – participation in the project doesn’t give the police instant access to a personal video feed.
“We’re not asking for that. We don’t want that,” WOPD Administrative Lt. Nick Bruton said. “We’re just getting a database of contact information.”
Tying those volunteered details – and camera angles – to a map creates a readily-accessible inventory that should save officers a little canvassing time when they’re investigating an incident.
Investigators already collect footage regularly, several times a month at least, Bruton added; a little foreknowledge of available resources could make investigations flow even faster toward an arrest.
For example, “Every now and then we’ll have a string of car burglaries. They’ll come through one night and hit some cars in a neighborhood,” he said. Officers will go door-to-door or business-to-business to see if anyone conveniently caught anything on camera. In one incident that springs to mind, “We were able to get footage from a neighbor (who didn’t get burglarized) that ultimately led to us identifying them and arresting them.”
White Oak’s improving on another agency’s idea – a patrol officer’s research found a Ring Doorbell program that solicited help via a printed form.
“No one has a printer,” Bruton quipped. “We took the idea and ran with it, made it a little more user-friendly,” directing volunteers to a Google form.
Interested participants are invited to register via forms.gle/o5ztHkbDuLKosaBU6, providing contact information and details about the recording devices at their home or business. Once that information’s been transferred into the police department’s database and cross-referenced with a map, White Oak’s investigators know their angles and coverage areas at-a-glance.
Barely a week in, the map’s filling up, each point representing a camera that could reveal suspects, stolen property or more: “We’ve got little icons all over town. They’re rolling in,” Bruton said. The potential footage, when it’s necessary, could be a game-changer. “We’ll know who has it, who to call, what kind of angle they have. We can speed up the process ourselves.”
Setups like Ring cameras are inexpensive enough today that they’re becoming ubiquitous,” he added.
“I have one at my house. It’s on wifi. I can pull mine up from my phone.”
Hopefully, too, the new program will become a deterrent – like everybody else, lawbreakers should have no expectation of privacy in public.
“Criminals have Facebook, too. They can see we have this program. Maybe they’ll change their mind before they come over to White Oak and do stuff.”

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