In East Memphis' Belle Meade subdivision, neighborhood security camera footage recently led to an arrest of a person stealing a trailer with a four-wheeler on the back. But unlike a typical private security camera, this one fed directly into the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) Real Time Crime Center (RTCC).
Back in February, Belle Meade became the first neighborhood to fund-raise and purchase their own "SkyCop"-style cameras, which were installed throughout the area bordered by Walnut Grove, Poplar, Goodlett, and East Cherry.
The MPD has been placing surveillance cameras in high-crime or highly trafficked areas for years, and they have several mobile cameras that are placed around town during special events. But the Memphis City Council cleared the way earlier this year for any neighborhood to get a camera hooked up with the RTCC.
"This process is for people who are interested in having their cameras tie into the RTCC," said Councilman Philip Spinosa, who sponsored the resolution to allow neighborhoods to purchase their own police cameras.
While any neighborhood can install cameras that don't feed into the RTCC, Memphis Police Sergeant Joe Patty said the police-approved surveillance cameras make it easier for police to access video when something happens. The cameras also become property of the MPD, so maintenance falls to them, not the neighborhood.
"You have our patented SkyCop enclosure with the blue light on it, so it's easy to recognize as a police camera. It belongs to the police, so it becomes our problem," Patty said. "And if something were to happen, we could instantly access it and pull the video. In the other scenario [where neighborhoods use private cameras], we have to send somebody from our video team to go out and pull that video. Unless it's a homicide or a really critical incident, that's usually the next couple days after it happens."
Here's how it works: Once a neighborhood group decides it wants police cameras, someone from the group will contact the MPD's RTCC at MPDNeighborhoodCameras@memphistn.gov, and they'll send back a list of approved vendors. The group gets quotes from those vendors and either fund-raises from within or applies for grants to cover the cost of the camera and installation. The group then donates that cost to the Memphis and Shelby County Law Enforcement Foundation, which will purchase the cameras and have them installed.
"It becomes property of MPD, and we add it into our grid," Patty said. "It's basically an MPD camera, but it's purchased by private funds."
When the council cleared the way for this process earlier this year, some council members had concerns that citizens in neighborhoods that might need cameras the most wouldn't be able to afford to purchase them. So they also approved a new Neighborhood Sentinel Program that allots $400,000 in the city budget for 70 neighborhood cameras to be installed in crime hotspots determined by MPD data.
"Neighborhoods should have access to cameras regardless of financial means," Spinosa said. "This is a first step in adding security to neighborhoods. I would love it if, after we do these 70, we could do another resolution for another 70."