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HPD looks into virtual safety network

The Hastings Police Department is looking into a security camera registration program to help aid future criminal investigations. They recently released a request for residents and businesses to fill out a survey regarding the possibility of creating the "virtual safety network."

"The idea of (the network is) really just creating a map throughout the city where we can see where exterior cameras exist," said Chris Nelson, HPD investigator.

Nelson said that the program he has looked into is called Securonet. There are several products that Securonet offers, but Nelson said that HPD is only looking into the possibility of using one called Safelink. Safelink would enable the police to map surveillance cameras and request the footage and information needed to solve crimes.

The network would be a huge time-saver for the Police Department, Nelson said. If the department has knowledge of where a crime took place and the time period it occurred in, they can contact the owners of cameras in that area. It might even be able to help put pieces together that they didn't even know existed, he said.

"We're just looking for tools that can help us work smarter and get more done (and) be more productive," Nelson said.

The network would only be useful with the help of the community. A resident or business owner would go to a third party website such as Securonet. They would register as a user on the members-only platform. Nelson said that a user would register their name, email address, phone and location of their camera. The information would be securely kept by Securonet.

After cameras have been registered, officers would be able to contact camera owners through the website to request any video footage they hope to obtain. It would be up to the owner of the camera if they would like to release that footage.

Officers would not have access to cameras without permission from the owner. The network would only allow officers to see where cameras are located. If a crime were to happen in a certain area, investigators could reach out to the people who have registered their cameras in that area to ask about being able to view any footage pertaining to the crime.

The Police Department is not asking for complete access to security systems or cameras. Nelson said that they are not trying to be a big brother, but rather, trying to get an idea of where cameras are located.

"This is about going and registering your cameras so we know they exist," Nelson said.

The program would be dependent on the interest of business owners and residents. The survey is a way to gauge the community's interest in the program. The community survey ends March 16 and is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/sec_cam. Once the responses have been reviewed, Nelson said that he will meet with Bryan Schafer, police chief, and they will determine if the survey results warrant an implementation of the system when the budget allows.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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