A Collaborative Approach to Sourcing Video Data for Police InvestigationsA Better Way to Source Video By Staff Sergeant Jeremy Ashley, Belleville Police ServiceIt all started when a man tried to run over his ex-girlfriend with a tractor-trailer.
In July 2019, a 40-year-old male was charged – and eventually convicted – with attempted murder after racing his tractor-trailer through a Belleville city suburb and slamming into his partner’s apartment building. Thankfully, she was uninjured in the spectacular attack.
Video evidence demonstrating the suspect’s reckless driving behaviour was a key part of the investigation and an element that required hours of investigator’s time to source. For 12 hours, a digital crime investigator and I drove a six kilometer stretch of the city searching for any source of surveillance video we could muster, whether security cameras from businesses or doorbell cams on family homes.There has to be a better way to source video, I remember thinking. At that time, there wasn’t.Sure, some police agencies had CCTV registries: a spreadsheet system of tracking some addresses that had cameras. Most were outdated and all were inefficient as an investigative tool as only a handful of officers were privy to the information.So, with the support of the Belleville Police Service’s senior administration team, I partnered with a sponsor and a web developer to come up with something different: CAMSafe.Located at www.CAMSafe.ca, the project is entirely a web-based application built on a public-police partnership to solve crime and keep communities safe. Since inception, the program has spread like wildfire across Ontario. Here is how it works:Community Partnerships It all starts with a campaign to encourage residents to partner with police by registering camera locations with CAMSafe. At the site, members of the public create a free account, listing an address, contact information, and any details they want to share about their camera system. If you are a business owner or head of a government agency, you can register multiple addresses and cameras under one account.Accounts are free and details can be changed, updated or deleted at any time. Prior to registration, users must agree to terms and conditions, which outline how the data is used by police to further investigations. Most importantly, members of the public can only view information in their account.What makes CAMSafe effective is how information provided by the public is transformed into a new tool for investigators on the police side of the website. Once approved to access, officers log into an intuitive, map-based display of the information that is keyword searchable and can be manipulated like Google maps.Within seconds, investigators can geo-fence an area and export a spreadsheet of the camera locations and owner contact information.Intuitive on multiple platforms – cell phones, tablets, and desktop – the power of CAMSafe in gleaning information about who in the public may have video of an occurrence or suspect is impressive.A Tool for Officers Whether you are a detective in an office overhearing radio chatter of a unfolding major scene – such as a kidnapping or shooting – and need a quick starting point for evidence or a uniformed officer in a cruiser investigating car thefts in a suburb at 3 a.m., CAMSafe eliminates barriers to information and evidence in the field in real time.Information within CAMSafe is shared between all police services across the province. No more siloed approach to data collection within law enforcement. As you can imagine, this program has grown quickly since launching in Belleville in 2021. Other municipal services have come on board, such as the Peterborough Police Service, as has the Ontario Provincial Police, which is working on a strategy to roll it out across Ontario in 2023.Hundreds of residents, businesses, schools, and municipal agencies have signed up cameras clear across the province, building the foundation of a database of information and users that can be used by any police service involved.Forecasting to the future, this program will continue with expansion and growth. However, sustainable long-term funding is currently being sought to enable all police services in Ontario to access CAMSafe without cost.Key to the growth of this initiative will be the development of a not-for-profit user group with a table surrounded by police services to guide the program as it develops and implements strategies. There is no limit to where this program can grow.If you or your police service is interested in learning more about CAMSafe, visit the CAMSafe website or reach out to me directly at jashley@bellevilleps.ca.Staff Sergeant Jeremy Ashley is a Forensic Identification Officer with the Belleville Police Service.


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