GFPD creating registry of security cameras to aid in investigations; considering purchase of crime mapping software

UPDATED June 10 at 3:45 p.m. The GFPD said people were signing up for CAPP as a result of our story, but were having some glitches with the website. We’ll add the new link when they get the glitches worked out.

The Great Falls Police Department is working on new ways to involve the public in crime prevention, investigations and neighborhood safety.

The first program their rolling out is the Cameras Aiding Police Program, or CAPP.

GFPD is asking residents and businesses with outside surveillance cameras to register them with the department.

Last week, Lt. Doug Mahlum and Capt. Rob Moccasin of GFPD’s Support Services Bureau visited the quarterly Council of Councils meeting to talk about the program.

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The Council of Councils is a meeting of representatives from each of the city’s nine neighborhood councils to discuss neighborhood concerns and broader community issues. The meetings are open to the public but generally have sparse attendance.

Registering a surveillance camera with the GFPD does not give police access to the camera system.

Mahlum said that it would instead allow the GFPD to map the camera locations so when officers are investigating incidents, they can look up cameras in the area and ask property owners if they can look at the footage from the time of the incident for potential evidence.

Mahlum told The Electric that it doesn’t matter what kind of system a property owner has, as long as it can record video. GFPD is only looking for security cameras that have eyes on the exterior of property.

Surveillance video has been helpful in recent cases of missing children and hit and runs, Mahlum said.

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Mahlum said that even if a property owner registers their camera, they don’t have to give GFPD footage when asked.

But, knowing where the cameras are would save time for police investigating crimes in the area, he said.

“This is just one more piece of it, we’re asking for the public’s help,” Mahlum said.

“When crimes occur near their properties, community members are not always aware that their camera system may have captured information that could help solve the crime. By voluntarily registering external cameras, the Department will know who to contact for video to help catch and prosecute threats to community members’ neighborhoods,” according to the camera registry on the GFPD website.

A number of police departments nationwide have launched similar programs, including Berkeley, Calif., Hopkinton, Mass., Lancaster, Penn., and Kettering, Ohio, among others.

GFPD has also established a communication tool for Neighborhood Councils to directly ask questions to the support services bureau so that police can potentially address issues when they arise.

That kind of communication could provide help to handle a situation like one that has been occurring in Neighborhood Council 8 where a loose dog was harassing the mail carrier and the postal service was considering a mail box for all residents at the end of the block.

An initial dog complaint wasn’t made to the GFPD and the neighbors took the issue to the City Commission last month. GPFD got involved after the issue came up again at last week’s Council of Councils meeting.

GFPD officials are also considering purchasing software that would allow them to create an interactive crime mapping tool that would be available to the public.

“We want the public’s help,” Mahlum said. If the public is more informed about incidents happening in their neighborhoods, they may be better able to work with the police department to address the problems.

“You as a citizen, what are you willing to accept in your neighborhood,” Mahlum said.

He encouraged attendees at last week’s council meeting, and the general public, to always report crimes or suspicious activity. When a crime is in progress, people should call 911. If it’s not an immediate threat, people can call the non-emergent number at 727-7688 ext. 5 or use the online crime report tool.

Neighborhood Councils could use to the tool to create crime reports for their neighborhoods and get more actively involved in neighborhood safety, Mahlum and Moccasin said during the council meeting.

“We’re super excited about this,” Mahlum said in an interview with The Electric.

The tool doesn’t give addresses for where incidents or calls for service occur, but gives a block so the police and public can have a visual presentation of where hotspots are.

Mahlum said the software would have more functions on the backside for emergency responders to help them better visualize trends and respond quickly to problem areas. Often when police notice trends in an area and increase their presence, the troublemakers move into other areas. But, when they’re pushed out of their comfort zone, Mahlum said, that’s often when they’re more likely to get caught.

GFPD officials did a software demonstration last week and are working with other public safety agencies including Great Falls Fire Rescue, the 911 Dispatch Center and the Cascade County Sheriffs Office for potential partnership to see if the software is something the agencies want and can pay for. Animal complaints should be reported, he said. The process to investigate animal complaints can take time, but the sooner it’s reported, the sooner the process can start, he said.

During last week’s council meeting, GFPD said the software has a $15,000 upfront cost and $8,000 annually. The software is made by the same company that makes the public safety software suite the city and county use.

“At the end of the day, we have to look at the cost and where do we want to cut the budget to pay for it,” Moccasin said. “We have to make sure we’re not giving up something critical.”

Bozeman, Billings and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office are already using the software.

Mahlum and Moccasin told the council members that the GFPD can help residents establish Neighborhood Watch programs, but the department is not staffed to coordinate the programs for the community.