Police in NJ Have Near-Instant Access to Private Surveillance Cameras

What to Know

  • Police in Wayne, New Jersey, have near-instant access to cameras owned by private residents and businesses in the town
  • The program has led to privacy concerns, though owners have to register their cameras and then give police permission to watch the video
  • Other towns are following suit; Linden plans to create a similar camera sharing program by the end of the year

In Wayne, New Jersey, a home surveillance camera rolls as a thief closes in on a package. Next door, another camera watches as the thief scoops the package off a front porch.

When it comes to catching criminals on camera, Wayne is on the cutting edge. Police are able to use mapping software to bring up registered cameras in the town.

Wayne Police Det. Dennis Ferray showed off the software to NBC 4 New York — little camera icons dot a map of the town, each of them private cameras that have been registered with police.

It’s called a “camera share program.”  Police compile a database of camera locations across a town by asking private homeowners and business owners to voluntarily register their cameras with police. If a crime happens near them, investigators can quickly gain access to the video.

The homeowners who caught the aforementioned porch thief on video have since registered their cameras with the town.

Ferray says that police have been running the program for about six months and now have a little over three dozen residences and one business on board.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Wayne resident Lisa Wald said. “Occasionally there have been break-ins, you know, it happens in every neighborhood, and I think it would have been great to have had that.”

Police don’t have live access to the private surveillance cameras — owners of the cameras must consent first and then choose to email over a prerecorded clip. If given the okay, officers can see the surveillance video at their desks within minutes.

“We can look for a car that’s been in the area, a person that’s been going door-to-door, and it gives us a much better idea and it’s much faster,” Ferray said.

Many residents, like Joe Martinez, weren’t aware the camera sharing program exists.

“I had no idea that you could even do that,” he said.

Martinez owns surveillance cameras and says that he plans to register them with police.

The New Jersey state legislature passed a law more than a year ago making it legal to “voluntarily register the camera with municipal police departments.”

Critics argued against an original version of the law that forced people to hand over their video. It’s currently voluntary, but some still worry about privacy and others don’t want to be involved.

“I understand why they would do it, but for me, I would just want to stay out of everybody’s business,” Linden resident Cheryl Williams said.

NBC 4 New York has learned that a handful of New Jersey police departments are now getting on board and asking Wayne for advice. Linden plans to start its own program by the end of the year.

“We want people to feel more like, ‘Hey, these are our cameras, we’re just inviting you in to fight crime,’” Linden Mayor Derek Armstead said.

Expect more of these virtual block watches to roll out in the coming months and years.

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