Whenever there is a crime in a neighbourhood, common police procedure is to have officers go door to door to ask if anyone saw or heard anything.
Technology has added another tool to their investigation kit: the proliferation of video surveillance cameras outside homes and businesses.
The North Vancouver RCMP has launched Project OPTIC — Observe Protect via Technology to Investigate Crime. It invites people who have exterior video cameras to voluntarily register their location. Home and business owners do not have to provide their names, just their location and email address. Then, if there is a crime in the neighbourhood, the police can more quickly find out who might have footage that leads to solving it.
"This makes it a little easier for us to go quickly to that [camera owner] and say 'There was just a kidnapping down the street. We were hoping that your camera might capture a vehicle which was believed to have been used in the kidnapping,'” says Sgt. Peter DeVries, spokesman for the North Vancouver RCMP. “It's not much different from what we would normally do. This expedites things, especially in an extremely urgent situation. It would make our response a lot quicker.”
DeVries says the program is designed to respect people’s privacy concerns:
• It’s completely voluntary. People sign up if they are amenable to being contacted should there be a crime in their neighbourhood.
• The GIS map will not list the homeowners’ name, just the presence of a video surveillance camera at that address.
• If the police want to access the footage, it’s up to the homeowner whether to comply with the request.
• Police will not store the footage indefinitely. If the footage does become part of the police investigation, it will be returned once it is no longer required as part of any court proceedings.
“The point of Project OPTIC is not to be saying, 'We want your video evidence,' even though that is true,” says DeVries. “The objective is to place the power in the hands of people who have [the technology.]”
The project was launched in late August and DeVries does not yet have numbers on how many people have signed on.
"It's really a win for everybody,” he says. “It makes the neighbourhood safer. It helps us solve crimes and that ultimately will reduce the number of cars that get broken into and bikes that get stolen. On the serious end, it will help us solve those more urgent crimes if and when they should happen, and, fortunately, they don't happen that often.”
Anyone with questions about the project can call 604-969-7484. To add your address to the registry, email firstname.lastname@example.org and provide your civic address. The RCMP also ask you to let them know if you are a residence or business.
Martha Perkins is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.