IT TAKES ONLY about 10 minutes for a citizen to let police know about a surveillance camera at home or at work that can be tapped for solving crime.
The Philadelphia Police Department's SafeCam program, launched in 2011 as a tool to connect police with citizens who have private surveillance cameras on homes and businesses, has about 900 participants throughout the city.
One West Philadelphia woman whose husband installed cameras at their Cedar Park home last year said that signing up for SafeCam has helped her form a relationship with detectives who work where she lives, and fostered her trust in the officers around her neighborhood.
"Having that comfort level of knowing that anything used will only be used if it's relevant" has been key after she's provided video in crimes, the woman said. She asked that the Daily News protect her identity because some alleged crimes for which she has provided video have not yet been resolved in court.
Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford stressed that the decision to provide video in crimes is up to the owners of the cameras.
"They have the right to say at any point in time that they do not want to participate. If at any point in time, if somebody is registered and they said, 'Look, I don't feel comfortable,' then that's their prerogative and we're not going to be mad about that," Stanford said, adding that the goal of SafeCam is to help police identify people who want to and can help solve crimes.
He said that detectives ensure that anyone providing footage is safe in doing so.
"If we have to come there in the middle of the night, we'll do that," he said. "We're going to try and do our best to make it convenient for residents who want to help us. The idea is not to inconvenience anyone or put them in harm's way."
The West Philly resident who registered her cameras with SafeCam said that providing detectives with video has indeed been at her discretion, and that having a good relationship with local cops has made her confident that video will be used appropriately. Her cameras have helped solve a string of gunpoint robberies.
In the last two years, the number of SafeCam participants has ballooned. In a February 2013 Daily News story, police said that the program had about 300 participants. Since then, the number has tripled.
"The success is that folks know their information is going to remain anonymous and not going to be released to the public, and they're not required to come to court," Stanford said. "It gives people the opportunity to help the Police Department and also help their neighborhoods by getting involved, but not directly getting involved."
He said that it takes about 10 minutes to fill out the SafeCam form on the Police Department's website to register, let police know the locations of cameras and provide contact information.
To learn more about SafeCam and to sign up, visit SafeCam.PhillyPolice.com.