Enid Police Department Sees Benefits in Surveillance Cameras

The Oklahoma city believes that surveillance cameras, such as Amazon’s Ring, help make communities safer by deterring crime and helping to identify suspects. The police department has partnered with Ring since May 2019.

(TNS) — The streets, yards and parking lots of Enid, Okla., have additional eyes through surveillance cameras, which are becoming invaluable tools for law enforcement.

Video systems such as Ring doorbells help officers and investigators build stronger cases and solve crimes such as vandalism or theft by capturing suspects on video and identifying them, said Enid Police Department Detective Lt. Bryan Hart.

"(Video surveillance) has made things a lot easier for us," Hart said. "It's a key piece of evidence — it's hard to say you didn't (commit a crime) when you're on video doing it. You're basically caught red-handed without anybody actually seeing you do it."

'We Go Look For Cameras'

Hart has seen technology advance in his nearly 20 years with EPD, including home surveillance. Home surveillance systems were "rare" to find in 2001, and cellphones with built-in cameras were manufactured only a year earlier in 2000. Businesses such as banks and gas stations had video surveillance, but Hart said they were "easily poor quality" depending on how much money was spent on them.

"Back then, a lot of it was real grainy, slow, wasn't in real time — just real poor quality," he said.

Now, video surveillance is everywhere, whether it's cellphone video or body camera footage, and more homes and businesses have surveillance cameras with much better quality than before, Hart said, with cameras set up inside and outside in the front and back.

Hart gave an example of someone who stole a package and covered the camera after noticing it, but "the damage was already done."

"If somebody is not specifically watching you, somebody's cameras are watching you," Hart said. "Either it's going to catch you coming, it's going to catch you going, or it's going to catch you doing what you're doing because cameras are everywhere."

When canvassing the neighborhood of any type of crime scene such as vehicle burglary or a home being broken into, EPD Officer Jordan O'Reilly said if a crime could potentially be caught on video, "we go look for cameras."

"If I can see a camera from the street, then I'll go knock on the door," O'Reilly said.

Hart said officers will ask victims or neighbors with cameras if they have access to their footage. If they don't, EPD's crime scene technician Sara Kelley will make an appointment to download the footage needed.

After downloading the footage, Kelley takes it back to the station, puts in on the department's server and lets officers know it's ready, a process that takes about 30 minutes if Kelley is on the scene, or otherwise up to a week, she said.

"If something does happen, (video surveillance systems) are a great way for us to get a timeframe of when it happened or gets us the information," Kelley said. "All that digital evidence just helps us be able to get more out on social media and get help from the public."

Kelley said another way for the public to help EPD in solving crimes is to know how to use surveillance and security systems.

"There may be video footage around, especially for our major crimes, where we ask for the public's help in getting video footage, and we'll get footage in a certain area," she said. "They may not ever watch it or know how to work it, and they never contact us. ... The more educated you are on how to use the system, the more beneficial it will be for you."

'Another Avenue of Communication'

When Brookside Heights resident Nicole Hall's neighbor's vehicle was broken into, she was able to give video evidence from her Ring doorbell and surveillance cameras around her property to police.

"My Ring doorbell caught it, and then my security cameras were able to pinpoint the exact time and get a decent picture of the person who actually was in her car," Hall said.

She said with the help of other surveillance cameras in the neighborhood, they were able to follow the person's movements down the street, and although the suspect hasn't been identified or caught yet, Hall said, she was able to provide video evidence to police through her surveillance cameras.

Hart said multiple cameras like this help the department track where the suspect came from and where they went.

"Normally, people aren't going to pull up in front of a house or business, get out, commit a crime and then go," Hart said. "They're going to park down the street or park somewhere else and approach on foot because it's more stealthy. It's nice to be able to track them backwards from where they came from, to see what images and evidence you can get."

EPD has had a partnership with Ring since May 2019 that allows the department to request area-specific video footage from people who have both Ring devices and the Neighbors by Ring app following a crime, EPD spokesperson Cass Rains said, with three requests since September.

"It's basically just a little map with five dots, and we draw the area we want and can then send it out to that area," Rains said.

Neighbor uses a person's address to create a radius around homes and can be used to anonymously share alerts about crime or safety issues in neighborhoods. The app is available for anyone with or without a Ring device or any other surveillance system.

Rains said EPD can also post on Neighbors and specify the areas in which the department is looking for video that users can submit, and Hart said people typically want to help.

"If you live in an area where crime has been committed, and we're seeking information like that, a lot of people are going to be jumping on board because they don't want to be victimized," Hart said. "Somebody else was, they could be next — it's always in the back of their head, so if they can help us catch the bad guy, they're going to do that."

Hall also has the Neighbors and Nextdoor apps, which she said helps neighbors stay in touch and post about pets, crime and things seen around the neighborhood.

"I think that (the apps are) pretty handy for neighborhoods, especially since we have moved so far away from back in the day of knowing our neighbors, and being very friendly with our neighbors," Hall said.

EPD uses Neighbors and is specified on the app as "Enid Police Department." Rains said the app allows the department to send out safety alerts and public service announcements to help protect and serve the community.

When reports are filed with EPD with video surveillance involved, the videos are sometimes posted to the department's social media such Facebook and Twitter to help identify suspects. Tips come in to EPD from social media more nowadays, Hart said, and also from Crime Stoppers and Tip411 — either online or through a text message to 847411 using the keyword "EPDTIP."

Hart said video surveillance can make communities safer by deterring crime and helping police identify suspects.

"It's a security blanket, but it's also an invaluable tool," he said.

When it comes to video surveillance, Hart said people have to understand that if they're out and about or at any business, "they're on video" and the "expectation of privacy has gone down."

"People just need to be mindful that if they go out, no matter where they're at, there's probably a camera capturing what they're doing, whether it's good or bad," Hart said.

Hall, the Enid resident, called this a catch-22 situation when it comes to posting videos or alerts.

Although the surveillance cameras don't necessarily give her an extra sense of security, Hall said they make her more aware of what's going on in her neighborhood, especially when she's not home, and can help discover any suspicious activity.

"There's always potential for instead of asking, 'Hey, what are you doing?' just assuming that somebody is up to no good," she said, "but at the same time, especially in neighborhoods where kids are concerned ... I'd rather be safe than sorry."

(c)2021 the Enid News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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