According to one officer, cameras are a difference-maker in community security.
“They’re one of the best methods we have to solve crime,” said Lt. Jason Laub of the Springfield Police Department.
Having camera footage of a crime can breathe life into an investigation that might otherwise be stalled, Laub said. At the start of an investigation, it offers a chance of identifying a subject. At the prosecution stage, a crime recorded on camera can lead to a confession or convince a jury.
Eight years ago, the SPD established a registry of cameras at homes and businesses throughout the community. Attention to the program waned, but efforts are underway to rebuild it and add more participants.
“Due to staff and issues like that, it kind of fell by the wayside,” Laub said. “We’re trying to reintroduce the whole idea behind it this year.”
How it works
Business owners with cameras on site may add themselves to the registry, as can homeowners with doorbell or mounted security cameras. Cameras vary in quality, but when a crime happens, officers are grateful for the footage, according to Laub.
In the course of an investigation, officers canvass an area, talk to witnesses and identify cameras that are visible.
“If it’s a serious criminal act, it’s not uncommon for our officers to go out there and do a canvass themselves and try to knock on doors and get information,” he said. “They can gather surveillance information at that time as well.”
The registry gives officers an additional tool with a list of addresses of other available cameras.
“It gives them an opportunity of pulling up another resource,” Laub said.
The department has access to cameras operated by the city in the downtown area, as well as license plate reading cameras by Flock Safety at certain intersections.
Cameras on the registry fill in some of the gaps in coverage, according to Laub.
Cris Swaters, SPD’s public affairs officer, said the more people or businesses who participate in the registry, the better it will be.
“Our hope is that we can get enough people to let us know that they have security cameras,” she said.
Laub said he has heard people express the concern that their inclusion on the registry gives police access to their cameras.
He stressed that Big Brother is not watching; police do not have access to camera footage from the registry unless they request it and the owner grants them permission to view the footage.
Joining the department in its effort to spread the word about the camera registry is the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. In its business toolkit launched in June, the chamber encourages businesses to join the registry.
Matt Morrow, president and CEO of the chamber, said the registry is part of the toolkit that also includes information about public area representative officers, annual crime data and a link to the online LexisNexis Community Crime Map, which provides real-time crime data.
The toolkit explains the camera registry, which includes locations, vantage points, equipment information and details about data storage.
“Should the devices have the potential to be helpful in the investigation of a crime or even of ‘real-time’ use during criminal activity or a community emergency, the database will allow the police to quickly determine the availability of video footage,” says an SPD news release.
Camera footage could be useful in the case of a theft of property, of course, but other applications are possible. A violent crime against a customer or employee is one such instance, as with the July shooting death of an employee of a Springfield pawn shop, Anchor Tactical Supplies.
Abductions can also be tracked more quickly through the use of camera footage, possibly resulting in a safer outcome for the victim.
Morrow said business owners concerned about safety can reference the toolkit and its camera registry. Public safety is a key factor in businesses deciding to remain in place in the area, or to relocate or expand here, and decision-makers keep a keen eye on crime statistics.
“For a company that’s already here with a national or global footprint, expansion almost always involves a new site, and in a community, there can be a significant difference between one area and another,” he said.
Research backs Morrow up. A 2019 study, “Fight or flight? Crime as a driving force in business failure and business mobility” published in Social Science Research, found that a high prevalence of violent and property crimes was significantly associated with both business failure and relocation.
Morrow said it is common for businesses to employ security cameras of some sort.
The program is not complicated to participate in, Morrow said, though many remain unaware that it exists.
“There’s a significant learning curve,” he said. “Most people don’t know it’s an option. We try to help with that.”
A 2019 Wall Street Journal report predicted 1 billion security cameras would be in use in the U.S. by 2021. The American Management Association reported in 2019 that 48% of businesses use video surveillance.
While cameras are common in businesses, their registration with SPD is uncommon, Morrow said. Swaters verified only 185 people have filled out the webform to be part of the registry. Fifty of these have registered since the chamber’s launch of its toolkit. Neither Swaters nor Morrow were willing to divulge the names of businesses on the registry out of privacy concerns.
SPD is willing to help with camera placement, according to Morrow. The toolkit promotes a security survey through Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, and this can include an assessment of camera placement.
Morrow said for businesses, the overwhelming majority of crimes are property crimes. Catching a person in the act of committing a low-level crime may help decrease the likelihood of future crimes, he added.
Morrow said the whole community needs to help curb crime.
“Public safety in the community is not just the responsibility of law enforcement officials,” Morrow said. “We have tremendous police officers and sheriff’s deputies around the community, and they do a great job, but it’s not fair to expect them to do it all by themselves. We have to be a part of the solution, too.”
Cameras proved helpful last year when SPD put the kibosh on a string of catalytic converter thefts from vehicles, according to Laub. Police read the property damage reports, compiled locations and started pulling video, and they saw the same red truck in all of them.
In January, seven people from Springfield and Rogersville were arrested and charged with the theft and transport of thousands of stolen converters.
“Video footage is essential,” Swaters said. “Any information that the public can provide to us to help us find that footage helps us solve crimes and put criminals in jail.”
SPD is seeing improvements year over year, according to statistics presented in Chief Paul Williams’ report to Springfield City Council last month.
Williams said the first six months of 2022 compare favorably with 2021.
Crimes against property have dropped 23% for the period. Burglary is down 23%; shoplifting, 12%; theft from buildings, 16%; and theft from vehicles, 26%.
He did note stolen property offenses increased 200% in the period, equating to 60 more instances.
Crime in all categories dropped by 19% in the first six months of 2022 compared with 2021.
“Our public information campaigns have been really successful as we target specific crimes and crime types and provide education to the public on how they can prevent crime and keep from becoming a victim,” Williams said.
A baked goods vendor at Farmers Market of the Ozarks expanded to a brick-and-mortar operation; the first lending center for Old Missouri Bank opened; and London Calling Pasty Co. added a new food truck.