Monmouth County looks to private surveillance cameras to fight crime

Residents’ and business owners’ surveillance cameras are now part of a crime fighting initiative in Monmouth County called Operation Watch Dog. It’s a voluntary program that allows law enforcement to collect video evidence of crime.

“How many times have you seen now on social media that someone has some type of footage or some type of still picture from a Ring doorbell of someone stealing packages or someone creating vandalism? Certainly this is what this is all about. Tell the officer, so instead of him going knocking door to door saying, ‘Hey do you have something that we can view,’ it’s real-time information,” said Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.

This is how it works: Law enforcement is alerted about a crime in an area of Monmouth County and then dispatched. Dots show officers where someone’s camera may be registered nearby.

“Most commonly what you’re going to find is that maybe your neighbor had a robbery and somebody broke into the house and they have no idea who did it. The police are going to go to your neighbor’s house and realize, ‘Oh, your neighbor across the street where you live has a camera.’ The police are going to knock on your door and say, ‘Hey, your neighbor was robbed, do you have any video that may point out into the street or may see people who walked by the house?’ They’ll review the video, and a lot of times they’ll see somebody just walking by in the corner of the video and they’re able to figure out a description,” said Andrew Calvo, assistant director of IT for the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

Through the Operation Watch Dog registry, law enforcement say they can expedite criminal investigations, especially since it’s a countywide program.

“What makes that important is because when you have a prosecutor’s office that handles the entire county, or even when you’re dealing with a crime that may have occurred in more than one jurisdiction, there’s one location that everybody can go to to get a list of cameras instead of having to call up 20 different people,” said Calvo.

For those worried about their privacy or their security video being misused, the sheriff’s office explained why that won’t happen.

“This is not a real-time monitoring program and certainly we’re not tied into any. Those businesses and residents maintain their own camera systems and they maintain the privacy of the system. It simply says, ‘Hey, if there is an incident in that particular area, we’re willing to share with law enforcement to help solve crime,'” said Golden.

“It’s a completely voluntary program. Again, police are not going to be monitoring or see your cameras on live video. It’s only for a case of investigatory need. Even if there is a need for the camera, they are going to ask for your permission before they come on to your property or even review the video. If you feel for whatever reason that you’re uncomfortable with that, you can simply tell them no,” said Calvo.

The program is free and anyone can register. Currently the county has over 300 cameras registered in the program at 30 different addresses, which they say are mostly businesses.