Lenexa police register cameras to speed criminal investigations

06/17/2014 4:40 PM

06/17/2014 4:40 PM

The cameras are already there — in parking lots, on rooftops, outside front doors. It’s just a matter of finding them when something goes bad and there’s a criminal to catch, Lenexa police say.

The Lenexa Police Department embarked this month on a security camera registration program it says will be the first of its kind in the Kansas City area.

The department is asking anyone with cameras that record public places like sidewalks and parking lots to register their cameras with police. The idea is to create a database of nearby cameras that officers can quickly access in case of a crime, said Maj. Dawn Layman, who is overseeing the program.

Normally, she said, officers go from door to door after an incident looking for witnesses and any video evidence. Having a database with all nearby cameras will make that process faster, she said.

The program, called the Community Video Partnership, is strictly voluntary, Layman said. Information provided by camera owners will be kept in a secure database. If a crime happens in the area that might have been recorded, police could then ask for footage for investigation and prosecution.

Police also want help in another similar but separate program called the Live Feed Partnership. In that effort, participating businesses would give police access to live feeds off their security cameras, which could help officers in the event of dangerous incidents such as bank robberies, police said.

Although the live feed would allow police remote access to videos in real time, Layman said the department would not be tuned in around the clock. There are hundreds of traffic and other cameras police can tap into, “but we don’t have time to monitor all those cameras.”

Facial recognition software is not a part of either program, she said.

The thought of more police access to an ever increasing number of cameras is a bit unsettling, even if it’s voluntary, said Doug Bonney, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

“Even this raises the creepy factor,” he said.

Cheaper technology has made it easier to rely on cameras in more and more places, he said.

“There are getting to be so many cameras that everything everybody does is subject to surveillance at all times,” Bonney said.

Where the cameras are is an important factor in determining whether privacy has been violated, he said.

“It’s one thing when you go into a bank and there’s a camera, and another when you walk across the street to borrow a cup of milk,” Bonney said.

“This is one part of a multifaceted problem. How much privacy are you willing to sacrifice in the name of — something,” he said.

Layman said the program shouldn’t be a cause for alarm to those worried about privacy. “What we’re asking for is not any different than we have in the past,” Layman said.

Police already routinely ask to see video footage if they think it might shed light on an incident.

“I know people are all worried about Big Brother,” Layman said. “We are not asking people to do anything they don’t already.

“It’s a win-win situation for us. We’ll have quicker awareness of who has video we could go get footage from,” she said.

Businesses contacted by The Star had not yet heard from police about the program. One business owner, who did not want to be named, said he’d been contacted in the past by police, and so they probably already knew of his store’s cameras.

Another said that he had no objections.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Andy Wingert, co-owner of Rimann Liquors of Lenexa. “I’m sure some people would see it as Big Brother, but I disagree. I think the Lenexa police do a good job. In the past, a lot of crimes have been solved because of parking lot cameras.”

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