New surveillance cameras and license plate readers will soon capture video footage of every vehicle entering the Sherwood Forest neighborhood and transmit that information to Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters, a technological tool that residents and officials hope will deter crime.
Law enforcement leaders described the initiative as a "defensive perimeter" or "virtual neighborhood watch" for Sherwood Forest. They said this pilot project, which was funded entirely by Sherwood Forest residents, will likely open the door for other similar arrangements in different neighborhoods across the parish.
Sherwood Forest has been pursuing this for years, but their efforts took on added urgency after a homicide there in January 2019 when a woman was shot to death while dropping her friend off after dinner. The case remains unsolved.
"People want to feel safe," Gary Patureau, chair of the neighborhood's crime prevention district, said at a press conference Tuesday. "This makes them feel safe."
The slaying of Janessa "Nessa" Hartley, who was shot by a masked gunman on the evening of Jan. 15 as she was chatting with a friend in a car, …
Sherwood Forest has the largest crime prevention district in the state, which requires residents to pay $75 per year for security services, including hiring off-duty officers to patrol the area. That money also funded the recent purchase of cameras and license plate readers for the neighborhood's 16 entrances. Officials said three of those sites are operational now, with the remaining 13 coming online in the next few weeks.
There are other existing crime cameras at various locations across Baton Rouge, but officials said the Sherwood Forest ones are top notch, cutting-edge technology. They can identify people and vehicles, which allows officers to easily search the video footage. For example, if police were looking for a white SUV that had been involved in a crime, they could search for "white SUV" and see all vehicles matching that description.
The footage is also transmitted into the police department's Real Time Crime Center, a project that Chief Murphy Paul pursued after taking office in 2018. The office, which opened earlier this year at BRPD headquarters, uses technology to analyze crime data, collect evidence and keep officers informed in real time.
That does mean BRPD officers can watch everyone entering and exiting Sherwood Forest 24/7. But Paul said "Big Brother" analogies are misguided because police won't use the information unless a crime has occurred — like they would with any other surveillance video that detectives view during their investigations. This arrangement just gives them easier access to that information.
As Louisiana moves into a slow reopening process following what officials hope has been the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Baton Rouge …
Officials also announced another initiative: Connect Blue, which allows East Baton Rouge residents and businesses to help law enforcement access their private surveillance footage more efficiently. People can enter their contact information into an online directory so officers can reach out when a crime occurs in their area, rather than knocking on their door and leaving a note. The contact info will be accessible only to law enforcement, not the general public.
Eventually, people can also opt to have video footage from their surveillance cameras linked directly to the Real Time Crime Center, like the Sherwood Forest cameras are. But that phase of the project isn't up and running yet.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said the goal is using technology and forming partnerships to help police officers work smarter and more efficiently. She said the initiative "highlights the progress we can make in public safety when our local government partners with community members."