Residents and businesses in Buffalo that operate their own exterior surveillance camera systems are about to become a vital resource in helping police officers and detectives solve crime in the city.
Mayor Byron W. Brown announced the launch of Safe Cam on Thursday, a program that seeks to encourage city businesses and homeowners to register their private security cameras with the Buffalo Police Department, which then would have ready access to private surveillance footage that could be used in the investigation of criminal activity.
“This is a highly effective crime-fighting tool that was developed in Philadelphia,” Brown said during a news conference at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
“What this system will allow us to do is partner with private residents and private businesses and tap into their surveillance camera footage,” he added.
To that end, those with private surveillance systems that continually record events outside their homes or businesses are encouraged to go to the Buffalo Police Department web page at bpdny.org and register their system with the department.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said the department does not take ownership of anyone’s camera or other surveillance equipment under the program, but it allows police to access and retrieve videotape evidence in a more timely manner.
Right now, he said, officers and detectives “have to canvass neighborhoods to find out who has what.”
“At times we’ve missed vital evidence, or someone taped over it and within days, it’s gone. This way, if we can get the public to buy in and we can get the business community to buy in – because we already have many people signed up, but we won’t go into exact numbers – it will give us the tools to solve some of these major cases,” Derenda said.
Private surveillance video has been useful in the past, as in the November 2012 case of a violent break-in at the home of a 96-year-old East Side man. The victim, Levi Clayton, suffered critical injuries in the attack – including a broken jaw – and died six months later in a long-term health care facility.
Video from exterior surveillance cameras mounted outside Clayton’s Longview Avenue home captured images of three people that were involved in the home invasion, who were later arrested.
In October, Brown credited video footage captured by surveillance cameras owned by the city and private citizens for helping fire investigators identify a suspect in a series of arsons on Grant Street.
Buffalo has 210 surveillance cameras stationed throughout the city. The system will be expanded to 220 state-of-the-art surveillance cameras by the end of the year, Brown said.
“By signing agreements to partner with private surveillance cameras that are owned by residents of the community and businesses in the community, it will literally give us the ability to blanket the city with surveillance cameras that will make the efforts of our police officers and detectives more effective in being able to process crime information and solve crimes more efficiently and more quickly,” the mayor said.
“Those who have signed up for the system are not registered anywhere to protect the identity of the resident and the business. Some can come forward if they would like,” he added.
Last year, the mayor directed the Police Department to learn more about the Safe Cam program that was initiated by the Philadelphia Police Department, which has registered 2,400 private surveillance cameras and made nearly 200 arrests based on civilian video footage.
Derenda declined to say how many private surveillance cameras have been registered for Buffalo’s Safe Cam program, but said the department is actively recruiting new private partners.
“We will be sending our (police officers) out to business districts and make everybody aware of it and try to get as many people signed up as possible. People have to be aware that we’re not going to come in and take their surveillance system from them. We’ll send our evidence people there to download the video,” Derenda said.
Brown said participation is completely voluntary, and unless they choose to advertise their participation in the program, private residents and business will remain anonymous.