Do SkyCop cameras actually reduce crime?

(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Nov. 12, 2018 at 10:00 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Two-thousand cameras monitoring 500 locations – is it the future of crime-fighting, or do these cameras provide a false sense of security?

WMC Action News 5′s Arianna Poindexter examined crime reports in neighborhoods stationed with SkyCop Cameras to see if the digital detectives are really delivering.

“We don’t want our neighborhood to die,” said Ervin Harris, member of the Graceland Neighborhood Watch. “I definitely don’t. I’ve been here, I’m proud of the neighborhood. We call this the best kept secret of Whitehaven.”

Harris said this quiet neighborhood just minutes from Graceland has changed over the past 30 years.

"We’re trying to be proactive to cut back on some of the crime because if you look at the stats around us, it’s not a pretty picture,” Harris said.

Harris' neighborhood has seen hundreds of assaults, break-ins and thefts over the past two months.

He’s thankful for the flashing blue lights that respond after a crime is committed but wants to add flashing blue lights to catch criminals in the act.

"What we’re trying to make it is more difficult for the people who are committing the crime to come into our neighborhood, do it and get away with it,” Harris said.

Harris says the answer is SkyCops, video and audio surveillance systems mounted on towers with flashing blue lights equipped with gunshot detection, thermal imaging and license plate recognition capabilities, all from a bird’s eye view.

Memphis police have used the cameras in high-crime areas for years, with locations determined by the number of criminal incidents and other public safety concerns.

MPD Deputy Chief Don Crowe and Major Stephen Chandler gave us a look at where and how the data captured by SkyCops is analyzed.

"The Real Time Crime Center is staffed 24 hours a day by commissioned police officers to assist with the crimes in Memphis,” Deputy Crowe said.

Inside the Real Time Crime Center are dozens of monitors that have access to 2,000 cameras in 500 locations across the city, producing millions of hours of footage each year.

The staff watching those cameras, however, is very small.

“We’re short staffed as well as all of Memphis Police Department, but we at least have several eyes meaning 3-5 eyes that are watching cameras,” Major Chandler said. “Now understand that we’re not watching every camera that we own. The video was recorded at the camera itself and we access it when we need it.”

The city owns 140 cameras. The rest, like the ones in Central Gardens and Belle Meade neighborhoods, were donated to MPD by the residents who live in those neighborhoods.

The average cost is $5,500 per unit, and $2,500 grants to put toward the cameras are available through the city.

“Cameras are not right for everyone, and we worry sometimes that cameras give people this false sense,” Chief Crowe said. “Cameras should always just be a layer of security.”

In 2016, the Memphis City Council approved locations based on crime data for 10 cameras in each of the city’s seven districts.

One report shows what happened after those cameras started recording. In the first 90 days, five out of seven districts showed a reduction in crime.

Crime in District 2 in Hickory Hill near Riverdale and Raines showed the largest reduction by 69 percent. However, crime increased by 33 percent in District 4 in the area of I-240 and South Parkway.

Crime in District 5 near Jackson Avenue and Hollywood Street increased by 72 percent.

"We tell everybody this anecdote: every bank has cameras in it, but people still rob banks,” Chief Crowe said.

Even still, Officers Crowe and Chandler say SkyCop cameras are working to reduce crime and Harris said even an increased sense of security is worth it.

"If we can secure this and then educate the people around us what they need to do, we can make Whitehaven a great place to live,” Harris said.

We’re still waiting on the 2018 report on neighborhood crime comparisons before and after SkyCop installations.

As more cameras go up, the WMC Action News 5 Investigators will keep you updated on the return on investment.

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