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July 14, 2014, 1:40 am

Surveillance cams turn citizens into crime fighters

Law enforcement is making better use of modern technology in hunting down criminals and using it to make arrests.

In Philadelphia, a program initiated by the Police Department is getting more subscribers as residents and business owners find that private security cameras assist investigators in tracking down violent offenders.

The program is called SafeCam and local law enforcement officials credit it with helping them take several violent offenders off of the streets, including a recent shooting in the city’s West Oak Lane section in which three young men were wounded by gunfire inside a take-out Chinese restaurant. SafeCam participants register their commercial or residential security cameras with the Police Department, granting them instant access to the recording in the event of an emergency or criminal activity in the camera’s range.

It was through the examination of private surveillance cameras that authorities were able to identify suspects Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing and eventually arrest Dzokhar Tsarnaev.

“SafeCam was started approximately two years ago and is one of the newest crime prevention and investigative tools in the Philadelphia Police Department,” said Lt. John Stanford of the Public Affairs unit. “It’s an opportunity for residents and business owners who currently have cameras or are looking to purchase cameras to register their cameras with us so we can make use of them in the event of an emergency or nearby criminal activity. It’s easy to register the cameras and takes about ten minutes and it’s all anonymous. The locations of the cameras, who owns them, is never revealed or even mentioned in court testimonies. It’s completely confidential so people don’t have to worry about that. The camera owners never have to testify in court and we never reveal where the footage comes from.”

Stanford said that virtually every day in Philadelphia detectives are accessing private and commercial security cameras in hunting down violent criminals. He said the number of registered cameras has picked up in the last year and the department saw an increase when the Boston Marathon bombing happened.

“The public saw how important it was and how private security led to the capture of the suspect,” Stanford said. “From January 2013 to June 12, 2013, SafeCam has helped the police department solve 85 crimes and resulted in 37 arrests. So far we have approximately 360 registered cameras.”

Recently, when alleged sexual predator Antuane Brown was stalking the streets of Germantown looking for young women to rape it was information provided by private security cameras that was instrumental in aiding police in making an arrest. In another recent shooting incident, private security surveillance cameras proved instrumental in identifying Brandon Cavanaugh, wanted in connection with a West Oak Lane shooting inside a Chinese food takeout in March that left three young men, ages 19, 21 and 22 wounded.

More recently on June 8 at 11 p.m. police responded to a shooting the 1200 block of South 15th Street. When police arrived they found the complainant, a 24 year-old male, with gunshot wounds to his left thigh and buttock. A surveillance video system in the area captured the shooting, showing three suspects approaching the corner of 15th and Wharton streets confronting the victim. The suspects, who were all armed, began chasing the victim on foot onto the 1200 block of 15th Street and fired multiple shots. After the shooting they fled on foot onto the 1600 block of Wharton Street and the investigation continues.

There is no cost for registering a camera and for commercial owners the Philadelphia Department of Commerce offers up to $3,000 reimbursement for purchasing and installations of cameras that meet the needed criteria.

“We’re also expanding the SafeCam program so city residents can get a grant to buy surveillance cameras,” deputy mayor for public safety Everett Gillison in a recent interview. “I know that some people have Big Brother issues with surveillance cameras — so do I. But if you’re on public property there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. These cameras help us solve crimes every day, from high profile crimes to small time robberies. They’re a proven technology.”


Contact staff writer Larry Miller at 215-893-5782 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .