Crime cameras: Helpful tool or 1984 come to life?

Published 12:03 am Saturday, June 29, 2019

LAPLACE — A request by the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office for homeowners to register their security cameras drew mixed reactions from L’OBSERVATEUR readers, many of whom feared the implications of omnipresent surveillance.

When registered with the Sheriff’s Office, privately owned home security cameras become a resource for investigators to identify suspects and solve crimes, according to St. John Sheriff Mike Tregre.

Approximately 20 residents called to register their home security cameras within days of the news brief’s publication, Tregre said.

However, others felt the request was overstepping boundaries, with one reader commenting, “This is George Orwell’s 1984 coming to life.”

Others questioned the effectiveness of flashing lights marking crime cameras around St. John the Baptist Parish, arguing the lights distract motorists and encourage offenders to take their criminal activity out of the camera’s sight.

Tregre explained that some cameras are overt, reminding all that surveillance is being conducted, while many others are hidden.

There are roughly 200 St. John Sheriff’s Office cameras placed around the parish, separate from the network of registered home security cameras.

Residential cameras are not used for continuous surveillance, according to Tregre. Rather, residents with registered cameras are contacted for help when a crime occurs in the surrounding area.

“If something happens in their neighborhood, we have a partnership where, if there is something on that video, they can help solve the case,” Tregre said. “They’ll forward us that video, or we will go and retrieve it.”

Crime camera footage has been essential in tracking subjects and securing convictions in criminal cases, Tregre said, adding he is not aware of anyone receiving a subpoena for court after turning over video footage.

In other cases, Sheriff’s Office cameras are used to keep an eye on infrastructure in the parish and monitoring lake levels during hurricane season.

However, the most popular request is to assign fault in traffic accidents and infractions.

One of the most visible elements of St. John Parish surveillance is the Safe Internet Purchase Exchange Zone, marked by flashing red and blue lights in the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts at 1334 W. Airline Highway in LaPlace.

The site has 24-hour surveillance for the safety of all parties in child custody exchanges and Internet sales transactions.

“We have the sheriff’s officers watching to make sure the transaction is safe,” Tregre said. “If it’s not legitimate, we know who the perpetrator is. It’s been working out pretty good. I wish more people would use it.”

While there is only one designated Internet Purchase Exchange Zone, Tregre said locals are welcome to meet for custody or product exchanges near other flashing cameras in the parish.

“Surveillance has become a way of life,” Tregre said. “All agencies in the United States are using cameras or different technology to keep the community safe through crime prevention and solving crimes. We’re just taking advantage of the same technology to keep St. John Parish safe, and we’ll continue to do the same thing. Cameras work.”