VALPARAISO — When police respond to a crime, such a burglary, they canvass the general area in hopes of locating nearby surveillance cameras that may have caught evidence that could lead to an arrest.
This process has been key in solving several area crimes, including a recent string of armed robberies and daytime home invasions, according to police.
But this part of the investigation can be time-consuming and relies on being able to locate homes and/or businesses with cameras.
The Porter County Sheriff's Department and Valparaiso Police Department have teamed up to streamline the process and encourage greater participation by property owners and other law enforcement agencies.
The new program is called SafeCam and is aimed at encouraging business and home owners to voluntarily register the presence of their surveillance cameras with the two departments.
"It's not in real time," Valparaiso Police Sgt. Mike Grennes said. "We're not asking for access to the video system."
Rather, the program will allow police to determine if there are surveillance cameras in the area of a crime and what areas they cover, he said. If the footage is needed, officers will approach the home or business owners after the fact to seek access.
"This is a voluntary, free and confidential program," Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said.
The approach is in place in some larger departments across the country, but the cooperation between the county and Valparaiso is unique, he said.
"This is a little bit out of the box," Reynolds said.
Registered cameras appear on a computerized mapping system visible only to police, and a verification team follows up with a visit to gather more information, according to police. When crimes occur, police will look for nearby cameras using the computerized mapping system.
Participants will be provided with optional window stickers announcing their participation in the program.
"It's going to deter crime," Reynolds said.
Valparaiso Police Chief Jeff Balon said he hopes more police agencies in the area join the program.
Reynolds said an effort is also underway with the Indiana Department of Transportation to locate surveillance cameras along some of the area's state highways to improve evidence gathering in the event of a crime.
The cameras, which will likely be placed along highways such as U.S. 20, U.S. 12, U.S. 6 and Ind. 49, will not be used for traffic surveillance or traffic law enforcement, he said. Rather, they will be used much like the SafeCam program in gathering evidence.