With help from a neighbor’s video surveillance camera, the Williamson County sheriff’s office last month was able to verify that someone tried to kidnap an 8-year-old girl near Round Rock.
The kidnapper has not been found, Sheriff Robert Chody said, because the camera wasn’t at the right angle to capture a license plate number.
But the public still can help law enforcement try to solve crimes by registering their video surveillance cameras, Chody said. The sheriff’s office started its video camera registration program May 31 and has had about 100 people sign up for it, he said.
Residents using their own video surveillance cameras to help law enforcement solve crimes in their neighborhoods is a growing trend, said Matt Peskin, executive director of National Association of Town Watch, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that sponsors National Night Out.
“When neighborhood watches started you had more people out on patrols, but now we’ve moved into this age where video takes the place of some of the neighborhood watch activities,” he said.
Chody said the registration program allows deputies investigating a crime know who might have surveillance video that could be useful. Sometimes, he said, investigators can’t tell just by driving down a street who might have a camera.
He said he was not motivated by a particular incident to start the program, but did it because he likes the concept.
“A resident may not know the value their video has until we tell them,” said Chody. “But we won’t know they have it if we don’t know they have a camera.”
At least two other police departments in the area also have a video surveillance registration program.
Pflugerville police started asking residents in February to notify them if they have an exterior-facing surveillance camera, and 215 have signed up, said Helena Wright, a department spokeswoman.
The Georgetown Police Department started a video camera registration program several months ago, officials said, but information on how many people had registered was not available Thursday.
Chody said camera surveillance systems are “very affordable” but sometimes residents are concerned about registering them with police because they think it’s a “plot” by the government to capture their data. That’s not what the sheriff’s office wants to do, he said.
Residents are asked to enter their name, the number of cameras and their general locations on a website so that if there is a crime in their area, investigators can ask to view footage to see if it captured the incident, Chody said.
He said that a few years ago, before he became sheriff, a surveillance camera at his home caught a man trying to break into his car who was unsuccessful because the doors were locked. He said the burglar did, however, break into the cars of four or five of his neighbors, and the video that Chody had led to the man being arrested.
Chody said he thinks a large percentage of people in the county have camera surveillance systems, including one called Ring.
Founded in 2013, Ring sells security cameras and products that can show someone approaching a home, sense motion and send instant mobile alerts and the videos to phones. Ring also has a free app that lets people share videos from their cameras with neighbors.
Lennar Homes, the nation’s largest homebuilder, is offering Ring security products in all its new homes, including in Austin, company officials said.
“These devices come at a great time in terms of awareness and neighborhood watch and crime prevention,” said Peskin of the National Association of Town Watch. “And the ability to share videos is just awesome.”