Philadelphia Police are hoping to extend the long arm of the law a bit with their new SafeCam initiative.
Through the program, the department will compile a list of existing surveillance cameras throughout the city.
And, according to Karima Zedan, director of communications for the Philadelphia Police, this list will then allow police officers to act more quickly after a crime has occurred, because they will know the locations of cameras that might have caught footage of a crime.
It’s a procedure police have done for a long time, she said, but in the past, officers on foot needed to knock on doors in areas near a crime scene, to find out who had cameras, where they face and if they had any footage that could help an investigation.
With this new program, a lot of those issues will be handled in a new, streamlined manner.
“They used to have to canvass a neighborhood …That process can be lengthy,” Zedan said.
But last year, when police began uploading surveillance footage to the Internet — on youtube.com under the username “PhiladelphiaPolice” — the response was immediate and it allowed residents a new way to interact with the police.
“That increased our outreach tremendously,” she said of the Internet-based videos.
Now, not simply needing to rely on the media to share surveillance footage or information police had to share in hopes of solving crimes, she said, police had a “direct link to the public.”
“We’ve increasingly been encouraging the public to contact us through YouTube,” she said.
The SafeCam initiative came from that, with police wanting a better, more efficient way to gather surveillance footage after a crime.
And, she insisted, that’s all the program does. Hoping to ease any fears of a draconian, “Big Brother” type all-seeing surveillance system, the program simply creates a database for the police to utilize after a crime has occurred in order to allow them to track down footage relevant to an investigation.
The police will have no ability to monitor live cameras through SafeCam, she said.
“We aren’t tapping into live cameras,” she said. “It’s a completely voluntary program…We are dependant on people partnering with us.”
Being a part of the program is easy. Business owners or those with residential surveillance cameras can register their equipment on the Web site: www.safecam.phillypolice.com.
Zedan said those interested in participating should give detailed specifics “so we know what quality the video is and where the camera is facing.” Civilian participants will then be contacted by police to verify the information and will be given a sticker they can put on their property noting that the cameras hooked up to the building were part of the SafeCam program.
“We hope that will act as a deterrent,” she said of the stickers.
Just how well the program could work is yet unknown. Zedan said it’s the first of its kind in the country and, though there is a similar program in Australia, Zedan didn’t know how that program impacted crime statistics there.
“We didn’t reach out, so I can’t provide statistics for success,” she said. “We aren’t aware that this is being done anywhere else in the U.S.”
However, she said, police expect this program will help to “make the investigative process more timely.”
Citywide the police already have between 50 and 80 cameras in the SafeCam program and more are signing up daily since it launched on August 1st.
“We’d like to have as many cameras as possible to be part of this network,” she said.
The program could help bolster the local surveillance effort currently being put together in Northern Liberties.
This program, which was spearheaded by Nina De Costa, founder of the Northern Liberties Business Owners Association, would see about 50 cameras placed in 12 locations throughout the community.
Also, De Costa said, another 60 residents throughout Northern Liberties already have personal cameras that could be part of the police program as well.
Currently, this project hopes to have cameras installed by May 15 of next year and she has been meeting with a “task force” of representatives from the Northern Liberties Town Watch, the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, the 6th and 26th police districts and the Penn Treaty Special Services District, to nail down how the local surveillance project might work.
“A lot of people were concerned that this would be monitoring,” De Costa said. “That’s not the idea. It’s image capture.”
She said the program would be “almost the same thing” as the new citywide SafeCam project, in that the new cameras would be accessed after crimes have occurred.
Last week she reached out to police to determine if these two similar programs might be mutually beneficial and, if the local program proves successful, De Costa said, she’d like to see similar programs in nearby communities.
“My idea is to create something like a turnkey program that we could take to other neighborhoods,” said De Costa. “We could help increase the conviction rate.” ••
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org