TAMPA — After a thief stole his lawn mower from a shed and another tried to break into his historic bungalow in Tampa Heights, Justin Ricke figured it was time to get security cameras. He has since upgraded to high-definition models that peer out from under the pale yellow home's eaves.
"As a deterrent, it's great thing," said Ricke, who lives in the house with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. "I know that if anything occurs in front of my property, I have a peace of mind that I'm going to have some kind of record of that."
Now those cameras are part of a new Tampa Police Department program that officials say will help police catch criminals quicker.
The REC program, short for "Register Every Camera," aims to create a mapped database of exterior surveillance cameras in homes and businesses in the city. When a crime occurs in an area, officers can pull up that map and quickly locate cameras that might have captured video evidence, expediting what is often the first step of any investigation, police Sgt. Kelley Spanglo said.
"We're hoping that residents will join us in our partnership in our fight against crime," Spanglo said Thursday at a news conference in front of Ricke's home. "This will help us solve crimes more quickly and efficiently."
Spanglo stressed that property owners who sign up must give officers permission before they view or download footage. Participants are asked a few basic questions, such as whether the cameras have a view of the street, what other areas are covered and whether footage can be downloaded. Information in the database is managed by the department and kept private.
The St. Petersburg Police Department launched a similar program in 2014, said spokesman Rick Shaw. Dubbed "Eagle Eye," it was modeled on one at the Philadelphia Police Department, Shaw said. There are currently 340 residents and business owners in the city registered with the program, Shaw said.
Shaw did not have specific data on how many criminals Eagle Eye has helped nab.
"It has enabled us to solve some cases over the years," he said.
More than two dozen residents have signed up for Tampa's REC initial trial period.
Among them is Ricke, who serves as second vice president for the Tampa Heights Civic Association.
The account manager for an athletic apparel company moved to Tampa Heights from Chicago about eight years ago. He was attracted to Tampa Heights because of its central location, walkability and the charm of the historic homes, but there periodically are break-ins to homes and sheds and so-called porch pirates who pilfer packages.
Ricke said he has seen success stories about crimes getting solved because of video footage spreading on social media. So when Tampa police approached him about the REC program, he figured it made sense to participate, especially after officials emphasized that the department wouldn't have direct access to his camera feed and he would not be required to allow offices to view or download footage.
"If I can make their job easier in protecting my neighborhood," he said, "then why wouldn't I do that?"
It's the second time in two months that the department has announced an effort to partner with residents through technology.
Last month, the department announced an informal partnership with the social network Nextdoor, a sort of online community bulletin board that police officials say will allow them to better communicate with residents in the city's neighborhoods.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.