With the rollout during the past month or so of 10 hi-definition police surveillance cameras in Brookfield, the village has recognized that, more and more, police rely on such cameras to provide critical evidence they need to identify and charge criminals.

Even in areas without police cameras, there are few investigations nowadays where police don’t seek surveillance camera video from private homes and businesses. They’ve been used to identify garage burglars and, memorably, once showed two men running across Ogden Avenue toward a motel with a cash register stolen from a hobby shop.

A camera mounted near the BNSF tracks was able to give Brookfield police an early lead on a vehicle that ended up being involved in the murder of Michael Smith. Had a camera been available along Ogden Avenue back in 2010, police might have been able to get a lead on who robbed and killed liquor store owner Bob Fakhoury.

The cameras don’t necessarily prevent crime, but police can’t be everywhere all the time, and the cameras – particularly the high-quality ones that can zoom and pan areas – are an extra set of eyes, particularly in heavily trafficked and commercial areas that draw crime and simple carelessness.

The past week over at First and Forest avenues in Riverside demonstrated a need for such cameras. Over the course of four days, there were three serious crashes, all involving people making left turns from First Avenue onto either Forest Avenue or Ridgewood Road.

In only one of the incidents were police immediately able to cite the offending driver. In one instance, the driver who apparently caused the crash left the scene before police arrived. In the other, police needed to seek out a truck driver’s dashboard video to see if they could determine who was at fault. As of Monday afternoon, that hadn’t been able to do that.

All of the incidents were caught on camera, via a device mounted on Riverside-Brookfield High School. But that camera was not placed there to monitor car crashes; it doesn’t give a view of signals changing and is unable to capture small details, like license plate numbers.

A hi-definition camera, or preferably more than one, at First and Forest would be an important investigative tool for police in determining who is at fault in crashes at an intersection where crashes are all too common.

Unlike red-light cameras, which are sometimes used to help police identify vehicles involved in crimes, the kind of cameras recently installed in Brookfield are not meant to generate revenue by nicking motorists for minor traffic infractions.

These kinds of cameras are actually about public safety, helping police solve crimes or determine who is at fault in a serious crash. They might give police and local officials the ability to monitor areas near bridges and rivers during severe weather emergencies.

For better or worse, public and private surveillance cameras are here to stay. Smartly employed by local officials, they can serve the public good without invading citizens’ privacy.

 

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