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Elgin expanding surveillance to fight crime

Senior patrolman Chad VanMastrigt observes one many surveillance cameras positioned The Centre parking deck stairwell Thursday Elgin.  April 25

Senior patrolman Chad VanMastrigt observes one of the many surveillance cameras positioned in The Centre parking deck stairwell Thursday in Elgin. April 25, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 30, 2013 2:12PM

ELGIN — Elgin police Detective Dan Rouse joined the department’s two-man surveillance unit in 2002 when it was still attached to the drug unit. At the time, the assignment involved a great deal of keeping an eye on things in person, and scant technology.

“Back then, we had one tracker (GPS unit), one type of device for overhearing, and a Canon XL camera,” recalled Rouse’s partner, Detective Tom Clancy.

These days, the newly named Technical Investigations Unit deploys a broad range of technology including audio and video pieces that can be used in a covert manner, telephone call interceptors, and myriad cameras, the men said. The city alone has approximately 20 surveillance systems on its properties, with an average of 16 cameras on each system that the police can monitor from their headquarters, Clancy said.

Public and private surveillance cameras, and even personally taken photos, played key roles in identifying and finding the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this month.

“That solidified the need for everything we already have been doing here in Elgin,” police Sgt. Jim Bisceglie said.

Elgin police are working to get more and more of the community involved in electronic surveillance — surveillance that can be used to solve or even ward off crime.

To that end, on June 22, the department will host a four-hour training session focusing on how to best use surveillance equipment and on how the community can use already-in-place camera systems to partner with the police for solving crime.

Those interested can sign up at “STS” stands for Security Through Surveillance. Along with training, it also involves getting people and places with security cameras to register them with the city.

“We’ve been working on this for awhile,” said Bisceglie, who is overseeing the STS efforts. “There is so much out there in the community; and by knowing where cameras may be, it will help us make better use of them.”

Helping police

As the STS Web page notes, “When a crime occurs, a resident or business may unknowingly record the crime, possible suspects, or an escape route the criminals used. If private surveillance cameras are not registered, the information captured is often lost to law enforcement personnel.”

It also notes that police won’t have direct access to footage captured on private property. Rather, such a registry should help police become better aware of where cameras are throughout Elgin.

“If a crime occurs in the vicinity of a residence or business with registered cameras, the police department will contact registrants to request a copy of their footage for evidence or investigative leads,” the page states.

Bisceglie said work also would involve drawing up floor plans of where cameras are in buildings and dwellings, to further hone what details that might be available to help police working crime as well as missing persons and traffic cases.

Bisceglie said that pretty much every day, patrol officers make requests to see if there is any video available of incidents to which they respond.

Sparking the boom on the private surveillance side is a dramatic drop the last five years in the costs of quality equipment, Bisceglie said.

Clancy recalled that when he began working surveillance, a computer and processor cost $3,800 — compared to the $300 smartphone he now has that is more powerful than the aforementioned system. Likewise, Rouse noted that surveillance camera systems for homes and businesses that used to cost more than $1,000 now can be had for as little as $300 to $400.

Both detectives also pointed out, however, that while technology is rapidly advancing, crime is neither solved as quickly as — nor with the ultra-sophisticated equipment seen on — TV crime shows.

Stay safe

Rouse stressed that while police will use private smartphone-made photos and videos, he doesn’t encourage people to put themselves in harm’s way by doing so.

Still, he noted that camera phone recorded evidence has come in handy in local cases, particularly ones involving juveniles who have made habits of posting details both good and bad about their lives online.

And public cameras have played key roles in helping police solve Elgin cases.

Police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault mentioned the Jan. 30, 2009, mistaken-identity murder of Paola Rodriguez along Raymond Street in which footage from a nearby fast-food restaurant — recorded in the same time frame — showed suspect Tony Rosalez, who was convicted of the crime in April 2012.

He also said that ROPE (Resident Officer Program of Elgin) Officer Eric Echevarria helped solve a case involving a burglary in January at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in his east-side neighborhood.

Echevarria knew that the church had cameras, which caught the theft of two brass holy water fonts worth about $1,000. And last year, the city also passed an ordinance requiring pawn shops and metal recyclers to save video footage for at least 30 days.

Police checked with a recycler and found an image of the church thief at one of them, which led to the arrest of Daniel Wells, Theriault said.

Lt. Sean Rafferty mentioned a recent case where Elgin Detective David Baumgartner was able to recognize someone committing a robbery at a gas station along Big Timber Road using a knife. Images captured by a store camera showed only the midportion of the man’s face. But according to reports, on April 23, police arrested Daniel Ontiveros for the crime after Baumgartner recognized him from an internal bulletin compiled using the store’s visual information.

Works both ways

Rouse also noted that cameras can be used to corroborate what those on both sides of crime tell them and to clear as well as implicate those who might be involved.

As for where this all might be headed, Theriault said the department eventually would like to expand its use of license plate recognition software beyond the one vehicle that has it now. Such technology can link to other places using it to create a picture of where a particular car has been.

The department eventually also is looking into how, somewhere down the road, cameras already put in place by Kane County and the Illinois Department of Transportation to monitor traffic at intersections can be integrated into Elgin’s surveillance, Theriault noted.

Clancy and Rouse mentioned eventually getting software that would allow police to more smoothly jump back and forth when viewing the cameras in the city’s own systems.

Long-range, Theriault said the department is exploring how a smaller city such as Elgin might use what now are costly technologies that big-cities are using to fight as well as prevent crime.

In the meantime, the concerted effort to bring the community into the surveillance plan is part of a four-pronged approach to policing that involves educating residents and firms, building awareness and forming partnerships, thereby creating efficiencies from crime solving and prevention, Rouse said.

“It’s what Chief (Jeff) Swoboda calls force multipliers,” Theriault said.

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