Private Surveillance Cameras Catching More Criminals

Police in Philadelphia used footage from a coffee shop to catch alleged killer.

January 25, 2013, 1:01 PM

Jan. 26, 2013 — -- Philadelphia detectives were able to quickly make an arrest in the murder and burning of a female pediatrician by viewing surveillance video of nearby stores and a hospital that captured the suspect entering the doctor's home and later getting into his truck.

In the hours after Dr. Melissa Ketunuti's body was found strangled and burning in her basement, city's Homicide Task Force collected surveillance footage from a coffee shop, drug store and hospital overlooking Ketunuti's block. It was footage taken from Ori Feibush's coffee shop that allowed cops to identify Smith.

The suspect, an exterminator named Jason Smith, soon confessed to detectives, police said.

Lately a range of crimes have been solved by the seemingly ubiquitous security videos maintained by private companies or citizens, and investigators have been able to quickly apprehend suspects by obtaining the video, deftly turning private cameras into effective police resources.

Private surveillance cameras have become so pervasive that the face of a suspect who allegedly shot a Bronx, N.Y., cab driver in a botched robbery on Jan. 14 was splashed throughout the media within days because the cabbie had rigged his vehicle with a camera.

The New York Police Department arrested Salvatore Perrone after he was caught on surveillance video recorded near two of three shopkeeper slayings in Brooklyn, N.Y., in November. He has since been charged with murder.

And in Mesa, Ariz., surveillance footage taken in November by resident Mitch Drum showed a man rolling on the ground trying to extinguish flames that had engulfed his shirt, which had caught fire while he was allegedly siphoning gas from a car by Drum's house. The man was arrested.

Though surveillance cameras have been a staple of security since a network of government operated cameras dubbed the "ring of steel" was introduced in London in the early 1990s, police have recently launched programs to partner with more businesses.

In Philadelphia, police have launched a program for businesses to register private cameras with the department. According to the SafeCam website, businesses will only be contacted when there is a criminal incident in the vicinity of the security camera. At that point, police will request a copy of the footage for their investigation.

"Businesses are saying, 'I have a camera at this location, and it may or may not be of use to you. It's a registration to say, 'feel free to call me,'" Sgt. Joseph Green told

Private Surveillance Cameras Solving Crimes

In Washington, D.C. police are trying to encourage businesses operating private surveillance cameras to quickly pull their footage following a crime in the area to help detectives.

"If [private businesses] obtain footage that may be useful in solving a case, we would review it and follow up accordingly," Gwendolyn Crump told, pointing out that footage is shared with the public on the department's YouTube Page.

Police in Worcester, Mass., are seeking to have the city's private businesses feed their footage into their video surveillance center. Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said that the footage will not be viewed regularly, but accessed when a crime is committed.

The public seems to be largely on board with this concept. In March 2012 an interactive poll of 850 adults conducted by JZ Analytics indicated that 86 percent of adults expect private business surveillance video to help law enforcement identify suspects and solve crimes. Over half of those polled even said that businesses should be responsible to ensure that their cameras are functioning properly.

But the opposition feels that the "surveillance society" in which our every move is monitored and recorded is a violation of constitutional rights. Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, spoke last year on the issue at the Fort Worth Lecture Foundation, as reported by the Star –Telegram.

"The courts have long prevented, under the Fourth Amendment, the government conducting private surveillance," Turley said. "But this effort all over the country to encourage private companies to create surveillance systems so that the information can be handed over to the government is a circumvention of the Constitution. This is changing who we are and our expectation of privacy."

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