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SPECIAL REPORT: Somebody’s Watching

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — When you step outside your front door, how often are not under some form of surveillance? From porch pirates to violent crimes, law enforcement agencies have been taking advantage of new technologies to keep an eye on us, all in the name of fighting crime.

“Video surveillance has become a pretty big tool for us in investigations,” said John DeGeorge, the Fillmore County Sheriff. “One of the first steps in our case, when we go to a scene, is to look to see if there might be any video surveillance.”

Security cameras have been around for decades, but it’s gotten a lot more affordable and accessible.

“Video cameras definitely add something to the idea of a neighborhood watch,” said Sheriff DeGeorge.

“A few years ago, a local restaurant was burglarized. We didn’t have a lot else to go on, the owner said that he had video footage that we could watch and that it was probably grainy and a little bit dark, but within minutes of watching it, we identified two suspects that we knew…we have many other stories like that in which case we didn’t have a lot else to go on, but that video footage that we had, did help us identify, charge, and arrest a suspect,” he said.

Sheriff DeGeorge: “There’s always nothing that happens nowadays that isn’t recorded.”

The Rochester Police Department has about 450 live cameras installed on city properties across the city for public safety and security. Dispatchers have access to this camera network and share information with officers as they describe what’s happening in real-time while officers are on the way to a scene.

“We’re obviously in the digital video age…the resolution is much clearer and helps us focus on areas, and helps us get better identification of people. People have identified appropriately or people are not misidentified because the resolution is better,” said Lt. Jon Turk of RPD.

Hundreds of law enforcement agencies have partnered with home security camera companies like Nest and Ring. Some police departments are even asking residents to share access to their doorbell cam videos. In October, Rochester police requested videos that may have captured a car speeding away from the scene of a shooting in the parking lot of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

But legal experts and privacy advocates are voicing alarm. Jay Adkins is a criminal defense attorney and says having electronic eyes everywhere threatens civil liberties, and while they’re capturing the bad guys, they’re capturing innocent people too.

“When we talk about this public safety versus privacy, a lot of people will say, ‘i just want safety’ and I have nothing to hide. It’s not that simple,” said Adkins. “If law enforcement is attempting to identify someone by the video and all that they’re able to point out is general characteristics which are shared by many in our population that are a serious limitation which can result in the wrong person being charged with a crime.”

Jay Adkins: “When we talk about well, let’s just get used to it and accept the fact that video cameras are everywhere and to say that we don’t have privacy rights anymore is very dangerous.”

Chris Fierst owns and operates two bars in downtown Rochester. He says having cameras creates a sense of safety for his employees.

“I feel more comfortable knowing exactly what’s going on,” said Fierst. “It gives you better insight into what actually happened versus what somebody can recall. Especially downtown with the addition of alcohol in the mix to somebody’s story doesn’t always add up. So it’s a good tool to go back and actually get the facts.

Christ Fierst: “It’s just something we live with now. Just the day and age that we’re in.”

Linda Ha

Reporter | @LindaHaTV | lha@kttc.com

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