Surveillance technology has become so easily accessible almost anyone can buy and install security cameras on their own. While most people use the technology for good, there are people who use it to aid criminal activity.
Typically, security systems are in place for safety and peace of mind, but in the wrong hands, it can create added problems for police officers.
“It’s very convenient for people who are lawfully using them and it can be very convenient for people who have unlawful intentions with those same cameras,” said Sgt. Jake Angle with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “It’s just something we have to work around and it’s just another element you add to it.”
St. Joseph resident Carol Wilson installed Ring, an electronic doorbell, and other security cameras around her property for assurance and convenience.
“It’s nice because it’s always at the touch of a button on your phone and just makes you feel safer,” Wilson said.
Wilma Peterson moved to St. Joseph two and half years ago and bought cameras because she heard there was a lot of crime in her neighborhood. She said the system has paid for itself.
“We had two people trying to break into the truck. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I got alerted that there was somebody out there and met him and called the police right away,” Peterson said.
That’s what these systems were made for — to stop crime and help police solve any criminal activity that might occur.
“It’s offered us a lot of opportunities as far as being able to further investigate crimes and actually expedite some of our investigations,” said Capt. Jeff Wilson with the St. Joseph Police Department.
But there are occasions when criminals will use security cameras to disrupt police operations, such as knowing an officer’s location, and take that information to evade arrest.
“It’s an officer safety issue,” Angle said. “When you approach a residence or business or anything, and if you’re looking for someone to arrest, serve a search warrant or something like that and they have surveillance, you lose the element of surprise, you lose that edge.”
Officers automatically assume they are being recorded, but if they know of security cameras during an operation, they will change their tactical approach, such as shifting their walking angles or what they stand behind.
As for the police department’s special operation team, members train for these specific situations. Wilson said they gather intelligence and have a number of ways to deal with cameras, including making them nonfunctional.
Wilson said inappropriate uses of security systems don’t happen often and that the proper use of cameras far outweighs the bad.
“With the spread of things like these applications, the Ring doorbell, the different styles of cameras that people are putting on their houses now and on their businesses, it’s having a positive effect,” Wilson said. “It’s helping us. I hope in a lot of cases, these are keeping crimes from even happening, but when they do, unfortunately, it’s greatly assisting us in being able to investigate these crimes.”