Police use growing platform of personal security for public use

Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–Buffalo Police had little to go on in late September when a toddler was found abandoned on a west side porch, and less than two miles away a burned out vehicle with its contents and the remains of the toddler’s parents reduced to ashes.

But thanks to a program started in 2016, investigators got a big break: Video showing two men running from the scene, one of them with the toddler and the other with two gas cans.

It was crucial evidence that may have taken much longer to obtain had it not been for the city’s Safe Cam program.

“We were able to capture images of at least two people in that case, and that definitely helped to set the tone,” Police Captain Jeff Rinaldo said.

Hundreds of residents and business owners have informed police of their personal surveillance systems from advanced cameras to doorbell cameras, like Ring.

That’s hundreds of additional eyes available to police, who already have more than 230 city-owned cameras stationed throughout Buffalo, all accessible at the click of a mouse.

It gives investigators and attorneys an advantage because juries have grown to expect it.

“They want video. They want some type of visual evidence that they can look at and say, ha, he did it,” Rinaldo added.

Together with Buffalo Captain Jeff Rinaldo and Mayor Byron Brown, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn urged the public earlier this year to sign up for the Safe Cam program. Hundreds have followed suit.

Flynn says, “This video information is crucial in all aspects of a criminal case. It is crucial in the investigative phase, and at the end of the spectrum, it’s crucial to my prosecution. Juries like to see video. Prosecutors like to see video. Police like to see video because it’s kind of hard to refute what’s playing before your eyes.”

And it’s working.

The importance and growing availability of video is undisputed and new programs through companies like Amazon, which sells the popular Ring doorbell cameras, are making it easier for police to get in on the game, catching unaware porch pirates To crimes much more terrifying in nature.

Police departments in more than 400 cities and towns across the country partner with companies like Ring to make surveillance more accessible.

There are only three departments that have done so in all of New York State.

Earlier this month, Cheektowaga police became the first agency in Erie County to sign on with Ring.

“We are out there, and people are happy to see us. And the other half thinks we are there to watch them, which is not true,” Officer Jennifer Szymborski with the Cheektowaga Police said.

Szymborski says some residents are concerned about privacy. But Ring withholds all identifying information, even from police.

They don’t know who has or uses cameras, or where they’re located. Szymborski simply leaves a message on a neighbor app, to ask if anyone would be willing to share their video.

“And we really don’t need that information, right? All we need to know is that they know we are here and that if we reach out to them, their privacy is protected and we’re really just there to solve the crime,” Szymborski added.

Although it still requires a subpoena from police, there’s nothing companies like Amazon or Google need to see or use your feed.

In other words, read the fine print.

Cyber Security expert Arun Vishwanath says, “depending on which company you buy these cameras from, you don’t own any of the feed that’s in that camera. Anything that it’s looking at is not yours. That’s a problem.”

The one common theme, all participation has been voluntary for Ring and Safe Cam members.

If you live in Buffalo and you have a security camera, you can sign up for the safe cam program.

If you live in Cheektowaga and use Ring’s neighbor’s app, don’t be surprised to see a police logo pop up, and interact with users.

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