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February 10, 2014

Sense of Safety: Cameras help deter, solve crime

NEW CASTLE — Smile.

If you’ve committed a crime in downtown New Castle — or anywhere else — you may be on candid camera.

Security cameras mounted at businesses are becoming one of the most valuable tools for police in solving and deterring crimes.

A case in point is last week’s shooting death of Robert Quincy Brown, 35, on the city’s South Side, which was recorded in detail, down to the alleged shooter’s flick of a cigarette butt. Police have recovered the butt and plan to test it for DNA.

According to New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem, events that led up to the shooting — the course of travel the victim and alleged shooter took from one bar to another to the South Side was tracked on video security footage from businesses and buildings throughout the downtown.

The footage of the actual shooting showed up on video from a surveillance camera mounted at Lutton’s Auto Repair.

The dawn of high-definition digital videocameras has been embraced by business owners wanting to protect their properties from crime. Those business owners are allowing police to review them for help solving crimes.

One is Norm Lutton, owner of Lutton’s Auto Repair, who said he put up his camera because he was tired of people breaking into cars, stealing parts and climbing his fence to steal scrap aluminum.

“Finally, I got fed up with it.”

His outside cameras have paid off twice.

Once was when he caught someone stealing gas. The second time was when police reviewed the footage to watch Brown’s fatal shooting.

Lutton’s camera is infrared and takes video at night. Although the footage is black and white, the police can enhance it and make it color, he said.

Lutton said he considered Brown a good friend of his family and one of his customers, so he was happy to help.

“He was a very nice kid. He was always joking and clowning around and had a good personality. It’s just a shame.”

The camera’s role in solving the crime “gave a resolution to everybody.”

Videocameras have helped solve other crimes as well, including bank robberies at Huntington Bank and GNC Federal Credit Union.

From footage inside and out, police were able to quickly extract a photo of the robber, publish it in the media and learn the type of vehicle he was driving.

The robber’s picture led to tips of the suspect’s identity on the New Castle police website.

“That’s where we generated our leads that led us” to the suspect, Salem said. “We put it out everywhere.”

The credit union’s camera also helped track the route in last week’s homicide, Salem said.

“We’re fortunate that almost all of the businesses in the downtown have videocameras,” he said. “They work with us willingly and take time out of their day to pull the video up to help us solve crimes. It’s a valuable investigative tool to us now.”

If the police can catch a crime being committed on a video, they can take the case to a jury trial easier because it makes for a strong piece of evidence, Salem said.

Another advantage of a video is that it picks up details police otherwise might not notice, such as the cigarette butt at the homicide scene, Salem pointed out. In addition to businesses, schools and other public buildings are mounting more videocameras to keep their properties safe.

New Castle High School has more than 120 videocameras inside and outside, to monitor hallways, classrooms and other areas, Salem said.

The downtown parking garage on North Mercer Street has 32 cameras inside and out, some of which picked up footage of the suspect’s and victim’s cars leaving the Capitol Grill the night of the homicide.

The Lawrence County Housing Authority has cameras all through its housing projects and the police department gets a live feed of what is going on there, Salem said.

The newer cameras are higher quality and offer higher resolution, he noted, and the police “are using them now more than ever.”

The city is applying for a $139,000 state grant to buy 15 high-definition videocameras for intersections downtown and at the Riverwalk. Those, too, would have a live feed into the police department.

“It’s a deterrent for people in the downtown to commit crimes,” he said, and would be a way to provide people who work downtown with a greater sense of safety.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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