Cops look to capitalize on safety cams

Ini­ti­at­ive would re­gister sur­veil­lance cam­er­as so po­lice could search for crim­in­als faster.

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 you­ 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:­fe­cam.philly­po­

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 hmit­

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