Bronx DA wants borough directory of security cameras

Posted

The Bronx District Attorney’s office launched an initiative last fall creating a map of the borough’s privately owned security cameras. But the program has yet to make much headway in this part of the borough.

Of the approximately 4,000 cameras registered to the DA’s Computer Assisted Mapping System — or CAMS — since the project launched in October, only 52 cameras are from businesses within the 50th Precinct, according to officials in the District Attorney’s office.

Kingsbridge Business Improvement District manager Katherine Broihier believes the program is an interesting idea, but had not heard about its launch. Tracy Shelton, the executive director of the Kingsbridge Riverdale Van Cortlandt Development Corp., also had not heard of it, but thought it could be good for public safety as long as it remains voluntary.

What the DA’s office hopes to put together is a registry of private cameras that already exist in front of businesses and apartment buildings. The goal is to provide an interactive map for law enforcement to not only know where these cameras might be, but how best to access them — especially since when it comes to gathering evidence, time is of the essence.

With thousands of cameras already recording streets and sidewalks, the DA’s office wants to expand into this part of the borough. Carmen Facciolo, deputy chief of strategic enforcement and intergovernmental relations with the DA’s office, said his team is trying to get as many participants involved in the program as possible.

“In the past, you would have to go out, you would have locate the camera, you would have to find out the owner of the business, you would have to contact the owner of the business,” Facciolo said. “Get their name. Get their attorney’s name. Figuring out how to start the subpoena. Whereas now, we have all of that information.”

The maps themselves aren’t public, so the DA’s office wouldn’t share what stores locally are part of the program. Yet, it seems many businesses don’t even know it exists.

Len Morse, the owner of Vacuum World at 5902 Riverdale Ave., says police come by every once in a while when something happens outside to look at his cameras, like when there’s a car crash. He thinks the DA’s initiative is a great idea.

“Most of the merchants who have cameras should join up with that,” Morse said.

When Bronx district attorney Darcel Clark announced the program last year, she said her office reached out to Business Improvement Districts — like the one in Kingsbridge — and elected officials to share it with the thousands of businesses that line the city’s streets. While the database would allow prosecutors to gather evidence quicker, participating is completely voluntary, and map of security camera locations would remain confidential.

Although anyone is welcome to register their security cameras with the DA’s office, the focus is on businesses and privately owned apartment buildings, according to spokesman Patrice O’Shaughnessy.

In addition to the 52 privately owned cameras, the database counts 172 cameras from NYCHA buildings in the 50th Precinct. Organizations like the Third Avenue BID and the Bronx Chamber of Commerce have been quick to embrace the program, but that has only lead to higher participation in the South Bronx.

The hope is prosecutors will save time by knowing where to go, who to talk to, and how much time they have before they lose potentially valuable evidence. Security camera systems are not uniform and often loop, or tape over, existing footage after a period of time that can be as short as 24 hours.

All of those details — including how videos can be shared and where footage is stored — are included in the entries for each camera, so investigators can more quickly obtain video evidence before it gets erased.

The map was accessed more than 700 times by prosecutors through the end of April, according to the DA’s office. While the number of cases relying on footage from one of the CAMS locations could not be shared, DA officials said they are tracking the map’s usage to measure its efficacy.

CAMS is the brain child of the DA’s office’s crime strategies unit, which works under Facciolo in the strategic enforcement division. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has had a version since at least 2014. Similar programs were established in New York’s Orange, Rockland and Niagara counties in recent years.

“More and more cases we’re handling each day has some type of video footage,” Facciolo said. “Surveillance footage and surveillance cameras are all throughout the Bronx, all throughout this country, all throughout the city,”