Video from security cameras has proven indispensable to the Erie police and other law enforcement agencies in solving crimes.
In one of its biggest recent investigations, the Erie police used surveillance video to make arrests in the fatal drive-by shooting of 7-year-old Antonio "Espn" Yarger Jr. in his Downing Avenue neighborhood in April.
Erie County District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz wants to make surveillance video easier to find for law enforcement.
As part of her office's new website, Hirz has launched an online registry for security cameras.
Residents and property owners can go on the site, ErieDA.org, and register their name, the location and type of their security cameras — including Ring doorbell devices — and other details about the equipment, such as what direction the cameras are pointed.
The information entered into the registry will not be made public, Hirz said.
She said her office will provide the information to police agencies, allowing officers and detectives to know who has security cameras in locations that are the focus of investigations. Without such information, Hirz said, the police must go door to door to find out who has security cameras.
"We are trying to cut down on the police time for canvassing," Hirz said. She said the police "can go right to the houses" using the information from the camera registry.
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Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny said he welcomes the creation of the registry. Citing the case of Antonio Yarger, he said surveillance video has become a critical tool in solving crimes.
"The amount of time it takes to locate, collect and then watch the video is tremendous," Spizarny said. "Any steps that can be taken to reduce that amount of time will benefit the community in keeping it safe."
Participating in the registry is voluntary, and participation does not mean that police would have automatic access to video.
The police would still need permission to obtain the video, said First Assistant Erie County District Attorney Jessica Reger, Hirz's top deputy. She also stressed that the information would be "purely for law enforcement purposes."
"We really hope everyone takes a look and considers submitting their cameras to help law enforcement," Reger said.
The Erie District Attorney's Office announced on June 7 that its new website was live. The office developed it with Crimewatch Technologies, of York, Pennsylvania, which specializes in creating websites for law enforcement agencies. The Erie County District Attorney's Office's Crimewatch Technologies site includes a downloadable app.
The site for the Erie County District Attorney's Office also features a portal for submitting tips, including anonymously, and a listing of community events for children and youth.
Detectives in the District Attorney's Office help operate the site, Hirz said. She said her office is using proceeds from forfeiture actions to pay Crimewatch Technologies for the site — $13,000 for the first year and $11,000 a year thereafter.
Herz said her office is using drug forfeiture money for the site under regulations that allow forfeiture proceeds to go toward "community-based crime-fighting programs." That area covers maintenance, training and support, Hirz said.
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Hirz said she asked Crimewatch Technologies to develop her office's site after seeing its work for other district attorneys' offices.
"I looked around the state and saw other DA offices have this tool," Hirz said.
Hirz took office in January following the retirement of Jack Daneri, who had been district attorney since 2009 and would have been up for reelection in 2023. Hirz, who was Daneri's first assistant district attorney for eight years, has said she will run for election in 2023.
The previous websites for the Erie County District Attorney's Office were less extensive than the site Hirz has adopted.
Hirz said goal of her office's Crimewatch Technologies site — including the camera registry — is to create new ways to "engage the community and fight crime."
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: With new website, Erie County DA creates registry for security cameras