Camera registry helps authorities fight crime

HOUSTON – With doorbell cameras and home surveillance equipment, we’ve all seen the crystal-clear videos of porch pirates and burglars caught in the act.

Now, local police agencies are hoping they can solve bigger neighborhood crimes using your cameras.

Several area departments are encouraging homeowners to join a camera registry so they’ll know where to look when a big case pops up.

"Surveillance videos give law enforcement identifying information, access to vehicles, license plate numbers, time stamps of when crimes actually happen," Rania Mankarious, CEO of Houston Crime Stoppers, said.

Thieves creep up to doorways and grab decorations off doors and packages off porches, but they don't seem to care, or notice, the little cameras watching their every move.

Franchele Young installed a camera to protect her west Harris County home.

"Right there is a video camera that is motion-activated," Young said.

Soon after she installed the camera, the unthinkable happened.

"My son ordered a TV that was dropped off at the home, and right after the delivery driver dropped the TV off, the TV was immediately picked up by a porch pirate," she said.

Now, Young is taking crime prevention a step further by registering her surveillance cameras.

The Stafford and Pearland police departments are letting residents sign up, and the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office will do the same later this year.

Registering your cameras lets police know where cameras are. If a crime happens, they can then ask if it was caught on your camera. It's always your choice whether to share your video with police.

"I believe that neighborhood safety is a community effort, so to have a partnership with local law enforcement that would allow me or anyone to, you know, share in the effort of keeping our neighborhood safer, that's a win," Young said.

Mankarious anticipates more police departments adding camera registries as the popularity of home surveillance systems soars.

"I think in 2018, we saw a rise in about 30 percent of homeowners getting this type of surveillance video," Mankarious said.

She expects that number could double in 2019.

Mankarious said home surveillance cameras can catch crimes beyond your own property and record clues that can help police solve other crimes.

Last week, Harris County investigators asked the public to check their home surveillance cameras for any clues in the death of Jazmine Barnes.

"Any bit of information you get, no matter how slight you think it may be, or inconsequential you think it may be, it could be the thing we need to turn this case," Lt. Chris Sandoval, with the Harris County Sheriff's Office homicide division, said.

A Ring camera video proved crucial in identifying a barefoot woman who knocked on a stranger's door at 3 a.m. seeking help in Montgomery County last summer.

Shackles dangled from her wrist, and officials said she escaped from her boyfriend, who had kept her tied up.

"We discovered, based on surveillance video, who she was and that she was a domestic violence survivor," Mankarious said.

When you register, you are not giving law enforcement control of your cameras. You are just letting them know cameras are at a given location.

If a crime happens in the area, they can ask if you are willing to share the video with investigators.

Mankarious told Channel 2 Investigates, to best protect your home, and your neighborhood, you need to remember a few simple things when deciding where to place your home surveillance cameras.

  • Put cameras up high enough that bad guys can't reach up to push them away from facing what you want it to see.
  • Make sure there are no fences or stairs nearby so no one can climb up and knock your cameras down.
  • Be strategic. Aim cameras to see doorways, windows, and the perimeter of your property.
  • If you use several cameras, aim some toward your property and others toward the street to capture the broadest view possible of what happening at and near your home.