GONZALES — A string of six armed robberies of Gonzales businesses over the course of a year galvanized Police Chief Sherman Jackson’s pursuit of police surveillance cameras.
From October 2013 through January 2014, the robber struck a Subway sandwich shop, Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree stores, a Pizza Hut and Golden Buddha, a local restaurant.
Four of the businesses were on Airline Highway and the others were on main roadways through the city.
“He used Airline Highway as a corridor, all at business hours,” Jackson said of the robber.
The break in the case came after surveillance video from a local business gave officers a glimpse of a car at the scene of one of the crimes.
A warrants officer with the Gonzales police force spotted the vehicle days after the sixth robbery, and Barney Bynum Jr., 33, of New Orleans, was arrested and booked on six counts of first-degree robbery in January 2014.
Later that year, Bynum pleaded guilty in 23rd Judicial District Court to all six counts and was sentenced to five years hard labor, suspended and placed on five years of supervised probation.
For Jackson, the yearlong case demonstrated a clear need: “If we had had the cameras in place” police could have stopped Bynum earlier.
“It’s a plus to all law enforcement to have these things,” Jackson said. “You can actually place that suspect in the area of the crime.”
Gonzales obtained three cameras, part of what’s called license plate reader systems that combine stationary cameras on city roadways with software systems at police headquarters for data storage of still photos, in July 2015.
The Gonzales City Council approved $120,000 for the purchase in its 2015-16 capital outlay budget passed in May of last year.
By saving money through using computers already on hand, the Police Department plans to buy three more of the cameras this year.
The initial three cameras, which will be used strictly for investigations, not for traffic citations, went live the first week of September 2015, Jackson said.
He declined to comment on how many or what types of crimes the cameras have helped solve in the last four months.
Gonzales, a city of approximately 10,000 residents, has a low incidence of violent crimes; its largest category of crime is theft, according to the police department’s numbers on its calls for 2015.
But both Jackson and Detective Sgt. Steven Nethken with the police force said the cameras have been helpful.
“We’re currently keeping statistics; they’re fairly new,” Nethken said of the cameras.
But, he said, “the expectations of how it would be helpful to detectives is showing in the statistics.
“We’ve been able to cut down the time a detective has to place in a case before a probable cause (for arrest) can be developed,” Nethken said.
“More victims are receiving resolution quicker,” he said.
Information from the cameras also confirms what local law enforcement already knew — that Gonzales, located between Airline Highway and Interstate 10, has a high traffic count.
In the four months they’ve been in operation, the three cameras, together, have recorded 2.9 million images of license plates, Jackson said.
Nethken notes that the data from the cameras “is secured data, with limited access, with controlled access of users to it.”
Access to the photos is limited to a certain number of police officers, mostly detectives, for work on a particular case, he said
“We know who’s pulling the data and for what purpose,” Nethken said.
Following national trends for data storage, the images from the cameras are stored for quick access for six months, then for 12 months longer, then permanently deleted after 18 months.
The cameras, Jackson said, “are another tool” for law enforcement.