Police seek to catalog private security cameras

Boston Police have begun reaching out to residents and merchants in Dorchester’s District C-11 to compile a comprehensive list of private cameras that will be used to collect evidence in the aftermath of crimes in the neighborhood.

The Cam-Share program is expected to go citywide based on the results of the Dorchester effort, according to Captain Tim Connolly, the commanding officer at District 11.

“People are putting up security cameras to protect their property, and they also can be our eyes and ears,” said Connolly. “It will save some manpower. We still need to knock on doors, but this can help our officers and detectives as they respond.”

Connolly says that canvassing for surveillance video has become standard procedure in just about every incident that occurs in the city, from armed robberies and breaking and entering calls to homicides.

Last June, Boston Police used surveillance video from private homes on Ashmont Hill as they sought two young men who had fatally shot another young man on Ashmont Street. The footage proved critical in the probe into the daylight shooting, said Connolly.

Such footage has also been employed to solve less violent crimes, from the theft of packages from front porches to car thefts.

A fully integrated network of private cameras, Connolly said, could help speed up police probes. Officers will have a database available to them showing where pre-registered private cameras exist.

“A lot of times when there’s a crime, police officers canvass the area. We have a list of all of our public cameras and our intelligence unit has them on a geo-spatial platform. We are trying to do the same thing with our private cameras in the area. Right now, officers will write down where the cameras are as they canvass. We keep locating and relocating cameras, so the idea here is to find a better way.”

Connolly says that eventually, with the consent of private citizens, the cameras could be patched into a citywide intelligence unit run by Boston Police to give investigators even more immediate access to video. There are already some buildings in Dorchester that are monitored by that unit, known as the BRIC— short for Boston Regional Intelligence Center.

“We’re also asking people, if they are comfortable, to give passwords that will allow us to go into their cameras and look,” said Connolly. “Right now, there’s so many different platforms that don’t speak to each other, and it’s a lot more complicated than it might sound. I just don’t think we’re there with that technology just yet, but that would be the goal.”

Last week, members of a Savin Hill crime watch group were among the first in the neighborhood to receive an invitation to join the Cam-Share effort. The point-person for the police is Sgt. Det. James Cullity. In his message, Cullity explained, “By partnering with our neighbors, private cameras in and around our community can potentially be used as ‘Force- Multipliers.’ Enabling evidence to be quickly located, analyzed, and distributed among various agencies working together within the Criminal Justice System, to identify, locate, apprehend and adjudicate criminals responsible for committing an unlawful act(s).”

An accompanying form includes a series of conditions that participants are asked to agree to by signing, including a pledge “not to release any footage or still images to the media without consulting with Boston Police Department Media Relations.” The form notes that a member of the BPD’s Investigations Division will “call you to verify your information prior to an entry being made in the Cam-Share Database.” Participants are also advised that “you may receive a call from the Boston Police if there is an incident in your area.”

Connolly anticipates that the District 11 pilot program “will be picked up by the rest of the districts once we figure out the best way to get the data and store it. We plan to put the list on iPhones and tablets so when the officers are in situations, they can locate and geo-code where private cameras are in the area.”