By Jimmy Orr and Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily
It took the Gillette Police Department less than a day to track down the hit-and-run driver who plowed into a Gillette woman’s house last Thursday.
Within less than 36 hours, the 23-year-old female driver was issued citations for failing to report the accident and driving with a suspended driver’s license.
It was the video footage from a neighbor’s security cameras, the police department said, that made the difference in tracking the individual down.
A couple eyewitnesses were able to provide vague but somewhat conflicting descriptions of both the car and driver. But the footage erased all doubt. The vehicle, the coloring, the mismatched wheels all made the car simple to identify as the one that came across a road, into a driveway and then a garage door.
Once the video made its way to social media, people stepped up and told the police where the car was parked and where the driver lived.
Technology Changed Everything
There was a time when police had to rely solely on eyewitness testimony or a person’s accounting of events in a crime. Today, surveillance cameras are filling in those holes and helping law enforcement solve crimes much more efficiently and faster.
“Before cameras you just took people at their word and there was never any way to back that up,” Riverton Police Captain Wes Romero said. “They’ve been an incredible help in solving crimes and identifying victims.”
For this reason, it’s become standard practice for law enforcement to look for cameras and seek surveillance footage whenever possible.
Video cameras don’t always capture everything, Romero noted, but they can provide vital clues in a crime scene and help overcome human error and mistakes in memory or perception.
“Sometimes it (cameras) produces something, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said, “and it doesn’t show you everything that happened but just a slice of the larger story.”
Surveillance footage is a tremendous help in recording what may have happened when a business gets broken into.
It is also very valuble when police are trying to identify a suspect, Romero noted, because they can share an image the public on social media.
“We get a lot of tips this way,” he said.
Marc Thayer, a former Cheyenne cop and now owner of Corporate Protective Services in Cheyenne, has seen a significant increase in his business since going into business in 1999.
“A lot of crimes actually nowadays are getting solved by security cameras,” Thayer said.
Improvements in video quality with the move from analog to digital recording have greatly enhanced the ability of such devices to record details that may not have been visible with earlier recorders. Advancing technology has also allowed users to download videos and post them on social media for more people to see.
“Then you’ve got thousands of eyes looking at the incident and solving it really quickly,” he said.
In the past two years, Thayer said his company had seen a boom in camera sales. His company also sells alarms, access control devices and fire systems, but cameras are his biggest seller.
“We get calls for camera systems every day,” he said.
He also gets on average about three calls a week from customers or law enforcement officers requesting video footage from a particular incident.
And though cameras are a great tool, Thayer said people should remain just as vigilant as ever when it comes to being aware of their surroundings and protecting their belongings.
“People don’t realize that even somebody just dumpster diving or something else is something to pay attention to because you never know who is committing a crime,” he said. “And I hate to say it, but canvas cameras definitely helped and social security systems are really the world we live in today.”
Ted Johnson, a technical sales associate with Collins Communications in Gillette, agreed that security systems and surveillance cameras are definitely a part of the new world order when it comes to protecting one’s livelihood and possessions.
There has been more than one occasion when a customer – individuals and businesses – have been able to provide law enforcement with surveillance footage to help solve a crime. Johnson can’t provide any particulars, he said, only that it happens frequently.
In many cases, he said, he’s contacted by customers who are adding surveillance after becoming the victims of a crime.
Along with providing law enforcement with evidence after the fact, security cameras can also be great deterrents, according to Byron Oedekoven, executive director for the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.
He suggests ranchers and residents in rural areas consider using cameras as both a crime prevention and deterrent which work well both in larger and smaller communities.