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Surveillance cameras and law enforcement

Video surveillance systems can be an important tool for police officers trying to find perpetrators responsible for committing crimes against the public. In Newark, Ohio, for example, the use of surveillance cameras helped local law enforcement officers identify and locate the individual allegedly responsible for a sexual assault that was reported at Newark High School on October 9, according to a report by the Newark Advocate.

Lead investigator Detective Steve Vanoy of the Newark Division of Police said the surveillance system at a local convenience store was an important tool that helped his team recognize 19-year-old Zakary Neldon, who was indicted on rape, kidnapping and robbery charges, the Newark Advocate reported.

"[Camera footage was] how we were able to identify him," Vanoy said, according to the news provider. "Anytime we're able to get video on any type of investigation, it's helpful. The quality wasn't very good, but you could see a couple people walking by in the time frame that made sense."

Surveillance cameras help local law enforcement
The ability to identify individuals at a specific time and place is one of the biggest benefits video surveillance cameras provide local authorities, Picking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt told the Newark Advocate. By using footage, individuals can often determine what someone was wearing and if it matches any witness accounts to help officers develop a person-of-interest category.

Other characteristics, such as a person's gait, can also help local authorities create a list of suspects.

"You can't do much anymore without being recorded somewhere," Captain Dave Starling of the Licking County Sheriff's Office said. "The more people that have [surveillance cameras], the more businesses that have them, the more likely we are able to piece something together."

Avoiding surveillance controversy
The abundance of surveillance cameras among law enforcement was echoed in another report by Smart Planet, which said the devices are all over the place and can help police officers deter crime more effectively. However, the prevalence of surveillance solutions has also introduced some privacy concerns that need to be tackled if the tools are to be used legally and without controversy.

Sharon Bradford Franklin of The Constitution Project, which created a report on surveillance cameras and their impact on privacy, said many communities have deployed the systems without first establishing or even considering policy. As a result, the law is trying to play catch up with a technology that is constantly evolving.

In many cases, the publicized success stories of law enforcement agencies using surveillance to catch criminals has not done much to deter altercations. In other words, it is important that municipalities create a clear set of usage policies that the general public can understand.

"If you have a camera you set up to monitor City Hall, that camera should not be able to pan, tilt and zoom so it can look into the windows of the apartment building next door," Bradford Franklin said, according to Smart Planet.

By planning policies and implementing high-quality solutions in places with high crime rates, for example, police and investigators may be able to identify and locate criminals without inducing the fear that Big Brother is watching everything everywhere. If surveillance cameras are installed in places with not much crime, on the other hand, the public may get the wrong idea.

When authorities carefully navigate controversial plans to install surveillance systems, the public can feel safe knowing they are not being unlawfully watched by local law enforcement but can still be monitored at times when they are more vulnerable to crime.

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