By Kim Mueller
Kansas City police are asking downtown businesses and residences with surveillance systems to participate in a voluntary, crime-fighting initiative called WatchKC.
“If your camera works, we want to get a hold of you, “ said KCPD Sgt. Jacob Becchina who developed WatchKC, a KCPD program that registers surveillance cameras in the city.
“That camera may be the difference in a detective solving a case.”
The idea behind the program is to provide a searchable spreadsheet and map that detectives can access quickly when investigating crimes rather than loosing time searching for working cameras and trying to contact the owners for the recordings.
“It’s a crap shoot about getting a hold of that camera footage because it is perishable,” Becchina said. “Some cameras record for only 24 hours — then its gone.”
To register a camera, residence or businesses need to fill out the Google form on the WatchKC site. Once submitted, the information is entered into a spreadsheet then police delete the Google form.
Most River Market shop owners are unaware of the WatchKC program and don’t have surveillance cameras. The few cameras there are often either turned off or not connected to a recording device.
Cameras at Tribe street kitchen in the River Market, however, are alive, awake and recording. They just aren’t registered with the police.
“I always want to do whatever I can to keep the neighborhood safe, “ said Sam Hagan, co-owner of Tribe at 316 Delaware St. “I just didn’t know about the program.”
Although some cities require businesses to register their cameras before receiving a business license, Kansas City does not.
WatchKC is a voluntary program that does not access the cameras’ live feed. And participants can opt out of the program at anytime.
“I want people to see that they can partnership with us,” Becchina said.
“This is not a Big Brother program. If you don’t trust the police department, that’s on us. We have some work to do.”
Less than a year old, the program has registered 1,124 residences and 472 businesses. But KCPD wants more.
“It’s been a slow process,” Becchina said. “It’s super user friendly, but you have to know it is there.”
Getting the word out is difficult without an advertising budget. Right now the police department is depending on the city’s 12 Community Interaction Officers to tell neighborhoods about the program.
Not everyone is a fan
“I’m all for helping stop crime, but the government or police are not on my priority list,” said Steve Stegall, co-owner of the Blue Line Hockey Bar at 529 Walnut St.
His wife was recently deported by federal immigration officials.
Stegall’s animosity toward participating in the program isn’t a surprise to Sgt. Damont Collins who uses WatchKC’s information at KCPD’s Real Time Crime Center.
“In the urban core, there is a long standing distrust between some of the people and the police department,” he said. “And we are trying to fix that.”
WatchKC is one of several different programs collecting camera information in the city. The police department already accesses about 2,000 live cameras as part of its Real Time Crime Center, Collins said.
The center also partners with the Power and Light District, Westport Business Association, Country Club Plaza and the Streetcar Authority.
Although the associations own the cameras, the police can access the recorded footage as well as view the live feed and direct the camera’s focus and angle, Becchina said.
But those programs are different than WatchKC, Collins stressed.
“At no point do we ask for live access to someone’s camera under WatchKC,” Collins said. “That is not something we do.”
Business owners find that message reassuring.
“I definitely like the fact that they have to ask us for our permission to see our tapes,” Hagan said.
“I like my privacy. The sense that someone is watching you is not comfortable.”
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