Live in Delco and have a security camera? The DA wants to know about it

Delaware County, District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland announces a countywide community law-enforcement camera partnership program for homeowners and businesses to register their camera systems and help investigators obtain video footage and evidence.

Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun M. Copeland announces a countywide community law-enforcement camera partnership program for homeowners and businesses to register their camera systems and help investigators obtain video footage and evidence. (Delaware County Office of the District Attorney)

If you’ve got a video surveillance system and live in Delaware County, authorities want to know about it.

Through the DA DelCAM program, announced Monday, residents and business owners can register their cameras with law enforcement. The initiative, mirroring one Philadelphia started in 2011, is meant to aid authorities pursuing time-sensitive crime tips.

“Instead of police officers walking up and down blocks upon blocks of our neighborhoods, they would have instant access to find out where cameras are located,” said Katayoun M. Copeland, the county’s recently installed district attorney.

DA DelCAM would not give police carte blanche access to private surveillance cameras or allow officers to view live feeds. As they do now, officials would need to ask home and business owners whether they could review tapes.

The purpose, Copeland said, is to let police know which homes and businesses might have cameras so they can obtain permission quickly and efficiently.

“Thanks to this technology and a partnership with our residents and business community, criminals in Delaware County now have fewer places to hide,” Copeland said at a Monday press conference.

The number of security cameras in the United States has skyrocketed in recent years, from 33 million in 2012 to 62 million in 2016, according to one industry estimate. Worldwide, the value of the video surveillance sector is expected to triple between 2015 and 2022.

Delaware County isn’t the only local government trying to harness this ever-expanding web of digital eyes.

Philadelphia has SafeCam, its own registry for privately owned surveillance cameras. In 2013, two years after the initiative began, city police said residents had registered 360 cameras. When asked for an updated figure Monday, department officials would not provide a number, instead saying there are “thousands of registrations that encompass tens of thousands of cameras.” Townships in New Jersey have set up similar programs.

Some municipalities have gone a step further than Philadelphia and Delaware County, asking businesses for unfettered access to security cameras up front. In Paterson, New Jersey, police can tap into live feeds recorded by private cameras.

Officials tout DA DelCAM as both a crime-fighting tool and a way to quickly locate children, dementia patients, or even pets that have wandered off. They’re encouraging businesses and residents who register their cameras to post a sticker in their windows, letting neighbors and prospective criminals know they’re in the DA DelCAM network. The sticker features Copeland’s name arched over what looks like the eye of a camera lens.

Though their critiques are not specific to camera-registry programs, some civil libertarians decry the increase in surveillance and doubt the power of such initiatives to prevent crime.

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