DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A Ring video showed a blonde woman with a chest tattoo checking whether a homeowner’s front door was unlocked.
She walked away and out of sight seconds later, but that short video of a stranger on the front porch was dropped into a website portal and nabbed by an analyst who was comparing the face of the woman on that video to a series of mugshots of other blonde women.
That’s the kind of intelligence work that goes on inside the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office’s real-time crime center. Data from license-plate-reading video cameras are reviewed there _ as are security videos from schools, local businesses and anywhere else in which the property owner agrees to let the authorities have access to it. Sheriff Mike Chitwood requested that the media not disclose the center’s location.
The center went online a month ago at a cost of about $600,000, all of which was covered by forfeiture funds, Chitwood said.
Much like a scene from the old Fox hit show “24,” someone seated at a computer terminal in the dark can collaborate second-by-second with those in the field during the scene of a standoff or some other major crime in progress.
“Every analyst automatically begins to do a workup on the victim (and) whatever information they have on a suspect,” Chitwood said.
The Daytona Beach Police Department also makes use of the center and Chitwood said other local police agencies are welcome to take advantage of it.
Even drone footage can be accessed by analysts inside the center. That is expected to start happening soon.
The Sheriff’s Office owns two drones and deputies will deploy them wherever they expect large crowds, said Capt. Brian Henderson, who supervisors investigative services for the Sheriff’s Office.
“That will be a tool we’ll be using at events to help protect the public and monitor what’s going on,” Henderson said.
Civil libertarians have balked at some of the devices and methods being used by police agencies as technology expands _ and perhaps the one that elicits the most alarm is the license plate reader. Chitwood, by comparison, has been an unabashed supporter of them and they are used across Volusia and Flagler counties.
“There’s no expectation of privacy when it comes to your license plate,” he said.
While speaking to the media about the center inside earlier this week, Chitwood mentioned one specific success story related to license plate readers.
In the spring of 2017, a group of suspected gang members from Atlanta was traveling in a blue Mazda on Deltona Boulevard. A license plate reader tagged the vehicle, which had a stolen plate out of St. Johns County, and deputies zoomed in. A search of the car uncovered two loaded firearms and a bulletproof vest. Chitwood said the gang was in Deltona for one obvious reason.
“Clearly, they were going into Deltona to commit a murder,” he said. “The reason that murder wasn’t committed was because of the tag readers and all of the intelligence that’s there.”
Home security cameras are regularly reviewed by the 10 or so people who staff the crime center. Whether it’s a Ring device or some other privately owned camera, any footage can be shared with the Sheriff’s Office through an online portal system. As soon as it’s uploaded, analysts have access to it.
Henderson said everything depends on the homeowners permission.
“We cannot go and look at your camera just because we want to, we have to ask” he said. “So if you don’t want us looking at your camera (footage), we’re not going to be able to see it.”
Henderson acknowledged that if a homeowner captures footage of a serious crime and detectives learn that person has intelligence vital to solving the investigation into that crime and that person refuses to hand it over, then a warrant would be pursued to obtain it. If that video is destroyed, then an arrest could be made.
“This is a cooperative effort. We’re not being Big Brother about this,” he said. “There is a privacy element and we respect that. … We’re not going to go knocking on people’s doors trying to steal their video from them or force them to give it to us.”
Homeowners typically don’t resist much, especially compared to business owners, Chitwood said.
“Normally, in my experience, it’s not the homeowner. It’s the business that gives us a hard (time). It’s the business that makes us jump through hoops,” he said. “There was a shooting in your parking lot, for God’s sakes, and you want me to subpoena corporate and that takes two months?”
The crime center can also be converted into a call center in less than 20 minutes. In the event of a child abduction or some other incident that would require detectives manning phones for a wave of tips, the facility can easily be used for that, Henderson said.
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