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Sheriff’s office launches surveillance camera database to make solving property crimes easier

In the past, Investigator Jeremy Grindle said he had almost a 100% success rate once a burglar or thief has their picture thrown out to the Facebook search mob.

The issue, he said, has been getting to the footage in time.

“We knock on the doors for three days in a row. Finally they come to the door, and say, ‘Well, my system only lasts two days.’ So we’ve missed it all,” Grindle said.

To remedy that, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office has launched its Citizens’ Watch surveillance camera program to create a database of surveillance cameras throughout the county.

Five people so far have registered in the first two weeks.

“It is not a way for us to have digital access to someone’s security system. The way it works is it’s voluntary. … Citizens helping citizens. Businesses helping businesses. It’s their choice whether they want to participate or not,” sheriff’s office spokesman Derreck Booth said.

Grindle said he started the process last year to run the idea up the sheriff’s office flagpole.

A citizen gives their name, address, contact information and type of surveillance system. They answer further questions concerning the length of their recording capabilities, the area depicted on the camera and the best time to be contacted by an investigator.

Even if registered on the database, a person has the right to refuse access, Booth said.

“If we get enough people to sign up, it eliminates a lot of that leg work, knocking on doors and making phone calls,” Booth said.

In his time with the sheriff’s office, Grindle said he’s never had a person deny access to their surveillance equipment. The issue has been getting it before a system overwrites its data.

Another hindrance for the investigator has been the citizens who take it upon themselves to post the footage on social media before law enforcement has had a chance to examine it.

“Once people see their image on social media or their vehicle on social media, it’s hard for us to catch that,” he said.

Only certified law enforcement officers from the sheriff’s office and the police departments in Gainesville, Oakwood and Flowery Branch would have access to the database through a secured website.

Gainesville Police Sgt. Kevin Holbrook, who now leads a community policing unit that has focused on the city’s midtown and downtown sectors, said officers have tried to keep a solid connection with the business vendors.

“We’ve gone out and done safety and security assessments so we know what security systems they’re utilizing and where there cameras are. Many times a lot of larger jurisdictions don’t have those relationships with the business patrons,” he said.

When a person signs up to register their system, a thank-you email will be sent. Grindle said this is to prevent anyone from being registered without their consent.

“We’re trying to get rid of all the Big Brother scenarios,” he said.

Even with low-resolution images, Grindle said getting the image on the sheriff’s office social media is a powerful tool.

Booth recalled an instance where a suspect turned himself in to the jail, telling the officers he had seen his face on a social media post.

“We even have suspects call us and ask why their video is on there. I’ve solved a couple of cases like that,” Grindle said.

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