Looking to tap into the video surveillance cameras installed on the exteriors of homes and businesses, the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office is launching a voluntary program called Citizens Active Against Crime.
The idea is to compile database of names and contact information for individuals with the means to provide to investigators surveillance footage that often becomes an essential tool in the arrests and prosecution of criminals.
"All we need is their name, address and telephone number if they have a surveillance system," said Maj. Dale Simoneaux, chief of operations for the Sheriff's Office. "Then, if we have a suspect or vehicle description for a crime in their area and we know they have cameras, we can contact them and ask if they will review their footage to see if they captured any images that can help us."
The Sheriff's Office joins a growing list of law enforcement agencies calling on citizens to help in criminal investigations in this way.
The city of New Orleans for years has benefited from its own program, which mirrors what West Baton Rouge is trying to do.
Officials with the New Orleans Police Department say the database created under their SafeCam NOLA program has helped them identify, track and catch suspects in many of their cases, such as carjackings, thefts and home burglaries.
"Citizens want to help because it's their stuff being taken," said Lt. Jennifer Dupree, assistant commander in the Police Department's second district. "The database has saved our officers a lot of time from trying to do a lot of leg work it takes to figure out who in a certain area might have cameras."
Her district alone has more than 1,000 residents who volunteered their contact information for the database, Dupree said. An unexpected bonus from the program is how much easier it made community policing for her officers, she said.
"Our district has a lot more participation than any other district," Dupree said. "Through the program the detectives talk to residents in the community a lot more. And they get to see us and interact with us on a more personal level because they get to help out the police department."
Dupree admits the SafeCam program did get off to a slow start when it began several years ago because residents were concerned their participation would give police unrestricted access to their surveillance footage.
Simoneaux said he's well aware folks in West Baton Rouge Parish might harbor the same concerns. But he stresses that even when residents volunteer their contact information for the database, an officer can ask them only to view their footage and then provide the Sheriff's Office with images of snippets if they see something that would help in their investigation.
"Whatever footage they provide to us will be confidential," he said. "We'll ask them to review their footage for a certain block of time and if they see anything, let us know. A suspect might have walked across their yard and they didn't know about it because their home didn't get burglarized."
To be added to the Sheriff's Office's Citizens Active Against Crime database residents can all (225) 382-5200 and speak with Mindy. Sign-up information is also available on the Sheriff's Office's Facebook page.