You can help: New program keeps an eye on Philly streets

Want to help catch the bad guys? Re­gister your cam­era with the Philly Po­lice De­part­ment.

It was a June morn­ing I’ll nev­er for­get.

I’d just ar­rived at work and was about to start look­ing through the day’s pa­pers and blogs when a friend from down the street called: There was buzz in the neigh­bor­hood that po­lice found a body.

The vic­tim was in her 20s, her clothes were stripped … and she was in the lot right be­hind my apart­ment. The lot I walked past every night on my way home.

I turned white, hung up the phone, and walked out onto the side­walk by my work. In the blaz­ing sum­mer sun, my mind reeled.

My 25-year-old sis­ter had nev­er come home the night be­fore. That morn­ing, I just as­sumed that she’d slept at her boy­friend’s house.

Now, I was see­ing the po­lice load­ing her body in­to their white van — a scene I didn’t ex­actly struggle to ima­gine after work­ing at a Philly news­pa­per for a few years.

After a few minutes of frantic phone calls, I heard what I still re­gard as one of the sweetest sounds I’ll ever hear: my baby sis­ter on the oth­er end of the line, telling me how dumb I was to worry.

Of course, there is an­oth­er fam­ily out there that didn’t get to feel that wave of re­lief. In­stead, the fam­ily of Sa­bina Rose O’Don­nell had to listen to the hor­rif­ic de­tails of her murder, beg the pub­lic for in­form­a­tion, and make fu­ner­al ar­range­ments for a 20-year-old girl.

As clearly as I re­mem­ber the morn­ing they found O’Don­nell, I re­mem­ber an­oth­er mo­ment just as well — watch­ing the sur­veil­lance foot­age of O’Don­nell ped­dling her bike down Gir­ard Av­en­ue, past the steps where my sis­ter and I of­ten saw her pass by and wave. And there, too, was her killer, 18-year-old Donte John­son, rid­ing past the nev­er-rest­ing eyes of the se­cur­ity cam­er­as at Front Street and the auto shop across 4th Street.

It was a haunt­ing ex­per­i­ence, and dur­ing the two weeks it took for po­lice to ar­rest him, I had John­son’s im­age burned in­to my brain, con­stantly look­ing for him to pass my steps again.

And, in­deed, it was that same sur­veil­lance foot­age that helped identi­fy John­son and pres­sure his fam­ily to turn him over to po­lice.

This spring, I had a sim­il­ar ex­per­i­ence as I watched po­lice foot­age of two armed men as­sail­ing a clerk at Trax Foods on Front Street be­fore even­tu­ally shoot­ing the in­no­cent man, killing him on the spot. The counter where that murder took place was a fa­mil­i­ar place to me, a place where I’d passed over a few dol­lars in ex­change for tokens and cof­fee and pret­zels count­less morn­ings.

Some of the same cam­er­as that cap­tured Donte John­son also cap­tured Quasheam Rich­burg, the 20-year-old charged in fatally shoot­ing the clerk, Mustafa Shaker, with a shot­gun.

Those im­ages also helped cops track down their sus­pect, lead­ing to an ar­rest where there might not have been one

Since those murders, I’ve taken closer no­tice of the cam­er­as that dot my walk home, little lenses peer­ing down from store win­dows and door­ways.

Maybe, when I was young­er, I would have been irked by that in­tru­sion, but these days, I know how those cam­er­as can help bring justice to fam­il­ies, or even just help the po­lice nab a petty crook that makes life in the neigh­bor­hood more dif­fi­cult.

And, just as I look for those cam­er­as on my walks home, the po­lice look for cam­er­as in the af­ter­math of crime. The dif­fer­ence is, the po­lice are in a race against time, and hunt­ing down those cam­er­as can mean los­ing the trail. Worse yet, they might al­to­geth­er miss a cam­era that cap­tured a cru­cial de­tail about a crim­in­al.

Now, Philly res­id­ents can make catch­ing crim­in­als an easi­er task.

A newly launched pro­gram, Sa­fe­Cam, lets busi­nesses and homeown­ers with cam­er­as re­gister the devices with the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment.

If a crime hap­pens, po­lice can in­stantly ac­cess that re­gistry, and if your cam­era might help, they’ll get in touch to see if your foot­age caught the sus­pect.

It’s that easy.

And while it’s hard to say wheth­er cam­er­as can make a per­son sick enough to com­mit a cold-blooded murder to think twice, it’s clear that hav­ing quick ac­cess to cam­er­as in our area can help loc­al po­lice identi­fy and ul­ti­mately nab crim­in­als.

To re­gister a cam­era, just vis­it ht­tps://sa­fe­cam.philly­po­

From the web­site:

• Re­gis­tra­tion is simple and it only takes about 10 minutes to com­plete the three steps. You will provide ba­sic in­form­a­tion and tell us where your cam­er­as are loc­ated. There is no cost as­so­ci­ated with re­gis­tra­tion and your in­form­a­tion is con­fid­en­tial. You may de­lete your re­gis­tra­tion at any time.

• Once you have com­pleted the re­gis­tra­tion and veri­fic­a­tion pro­cess, a mem­ber of the De­part­ment will fol­low up with you to con­firm your re­gis­tra­tion. At this point, you will also re­ceive a PPD Sa­fe­Cam win­dow decal, which you may proudly dis­play in your home or busi­ness.

• You will only be con­tac­ted by the Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment in the fu­ture if there is a crim­in­al in­cid­ent in the vi­cin­ity of your se­cur­ity cam­era. Po­lice per­son­nel, if ne­ces­sary, may re­quest a copy of any video cap­tured by your cam­era, which may as­sist in the in­vest­ig­a­tion of a crime.

You nev­er know, you might just help put the next bad guy be­hind bars.••

Bri­an Rademaekers can be reached at 215-354-3039 or 

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