New Orleans — New Orleans police and French Quarter residents have joined forces to create a database of surveillance cameras throughout the Quarter that allows police to quickly access information that helps solve crimes, and officials hope to export the program to other communities.
The initiative is dubbed Safe-Cam8, and it’s a spin-off of a Philadelphia program with a similar name, said Bob Simms, chairman of the security taskforce for the French Quarter Management District. Simms said the way the program works is that residents and business owners voluntarily submit information about security cameras they have on the exterior of their buildings. Participants provide the number of cameras, their locations and contact information to a database that only police can access.
Officers can then access that information through their mobile devices while at crime scenes. The database provides a map of all the cameras in the district to detectives. Simms said he thought the program would be a great northern import for the city, but credited Quarter resident Larry Lane for designing the database.
“We’re doing this, but it’s really an NOPD initiative,” said Simms, who noted that police are already planning to expand it to the Marigny and Central Business District. “Since it started out in the Quarter, that’s where most of the cameras are, but we want to spread it.”
Simms said there are already 500 cameras at 175 locations listed in the database, and the program has only been active for about two months. At the Eighth District’s weekly ComStat meetings where officers review crimes, Simms said there are usually mentions of how the cameras helped solve crimes.
“It’s already had an effect,” said Simms, adding that the entire effort was done by volunteers.
Eighth District Commander Jeffrey Walls said the database is a great innovation on an existing practice. Police throughout the city try to keep track of where cameras are located in particular districts, and they often have a list that’s kept in the district station. But, typically that means detectives have to go back to the station instead of immediately seeking out cameras and residents at the scene.
With the new database, detectives get immediate information, including the best time and method for contacting camera owners. They also know when video is erased. Walls said that makes things much easier for his officers, who used to have to keep knocking on doors hoping to catch a property owner there.
“I don’t know a district that doesn’t keep up with who has a camera, but this puts it on a site the detectives can go to,” Walls said. “It’s been working out well for us, and we’re eventually going to get it to other districts.”
Walls said a surprising number of businesses and homes in the city use exterior cameras, and getting a better count of who has them would be a boon for police. Cameras make it easier to identify suspects and recreate incidents. The existing database also allows new property owners to easily update their information or add new information. Residents can opt out of the program at any time.
Philadelphia started its program in 2011 and already has posted hundreds of videos from security cameras to YouTube.
Simms said the program is an outgrowth of his task force’s brainstorming about ways to make things safer in the Quarter. They initially considered putting up public cameras throughout the area but realized that was unlikely given the $3.5 million estimated price tag. The group had to overcome some concerns about privacy issues, and the Vieux Carre Commission’s concerns about whether the cameras would negatively impact the Quarter’s aesthetic. Eventually everyone found common ground, and now all the database needs is more residents to participate.
“We try to work on things for the better good of the Quarter,” Simms said.