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Candid camera: Nevada County sheriff looks to register outdoor cameras to thwart crime

Surveillance cameras linked to the Grass Valley Police Department are attached to a pole along Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley. They help law enforcement solve crimes when they occur in the vicinity. The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office is hoping to use outdoor cameras with a new registry program.
Photo: Elias Funez

The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office is looking for help in the fight against crime by asking people to register their stationary outdoor cameras.

“This program is designed for residents to register and let us know that they have a security camera (or multiple ones) that are facing a public space and may capture footage that helps us solve a crime in the future,” said Andrew Trygg, public information officer with the Sheriff’s Office. “For example, a residential burglary takes place on a street in Alta Sierra. Because of this registry, we know that there are several cameras in the area that capture the road and vehicles driving by. So, one of our detectives contacts the residents that previously registered their camera and subsequently is provided video footage of a ‘suspicious’ car that might be involved in the burglary.”

The message asking for the public to register their cameras was posted this week on the sheriff’s Facebook page. The roll out of the new Citizens Camera Registry is the first of its kind in Nevada County, and will enable law enforcement to team up with the citizenry when crime hits. The privately owned outdoor camera can record critical evidence the Sheriff’s Office can use during an investigation. By fostering a community partnership, suspects are hoped to be identified more quickly before they strike again with additional offenses.



“This footage could be used as evidence in a case if deemed necessary,” said Trygg. “This voluntary registration simply lets us know the camera exists at a specific address. It does not provide us with access to the video footage. This would be up to the resident to provide if requested.”

SUPPORT AND OPPOSITION

Asked about the new program, Wendy Ermshar, a downtown Grass Valley retailer, expressed reticence.



Yuba Blue assistant manager Hannah Davis describes how an uptick in shoplifting has caused them to install many new surveillance cameras within the store. Davis is supportive of the sheriff’s new camera program.
Photo: Elias Funez

“As it stands I think the Citizens Camera Registry begs a lot of questions regarding privacy rights of our residents,” she said. “I could not support the policy as it stands.”

Eva Don, a customer at Sergios’ outdoor tables on Mill Street, did not agree with the camera registry proposal.

“No, I don’t support the policy,” she said. “I think it’s a violation of your right to privacy.”

However, several others supported the idea.

Ann Starr — owner of Sierra Starr, a fine wine seller on West Main Street — said the cameras would help everybody on Mill Street.

A surveillance camera sits over the front door of a business along Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley. The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office has announced plans for a citizen camera registry that it hopes will help find suspected criminals faster.
Photo: Elias Funez

“I’m all for it,” she said. “Our Police Chief Alex Gammelgard approached us a while ago and asked if we’d be willing to have a camera installed that aimed down Mill Street. We’ve had no problem with crime. We have lights in front of the building. And the police department asked us several years ago to keep as many lights on as we are comfortable with.”

Hannah Davis, assistant manager at retailer Yuba Blue on Mill Street, also was enthusiastic about the cameras.

“I love the idea,” she said. “I feel like it would help us communicate better with the police when crimes are committed downtown.”

John Herndon, waiting at a table on Mill Street to get his child from school, also thought cameras were a good idea. However, he added a caveat.

Notes left about Yuba Blue in downtown Grass Valley remind shoppers that they are now under surveillance due to incessant shoplifting.
Photo: Elias Funez

“As long as people have the ability to decline access to recorded footage at any time,” he said.

The sheriff’s Facebook post states that deputies would ask registrants to check their video surveillance systems for a specific date and time for video that could show activity involved with a crime. If video evidence is discovered, residents or business owners can arrange to have deputies retrieve video archives.

“Together, we can better identify suspicious activity and request what could be very valuable video footage from residents,” said Trygg. “In the short time since launching this program, we have already received a number of registrations indicating to us that the community supports our partnership idea.”

New surveillance cameras in downtown Grass Valley’s Yuba Blue help to deter shoplifting while giving management evidence that can later be turned over to law enforcement. A new program aims to register citizen cameras so that they may be used later by law enforcement in the case of a nearby crime.
Photo: Elias Funez

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

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