Video from security cameras has proven indispensable to Erie police and other law enforcement agencies in solving crimes.
In one of their biggest investigations recently, Erie Police used surveillance video to make arrests in the fatal shooting from a speeding car on 7-year-old Antonio “Espin” Yerger Jr., on Downing Avenue in April.
Elizabeth Hirs, the Erie County District Attorney, wants to make it easier to find the surveillance video for law enforcement.
As part of her office’s new website, Hirz has launched an online registry of security cameras.
Residents and property owners can go to ErieDA.org and record their names, the location and type of their security cameras — including Ring doorbells — and other details about the equipment, such as the direction the cameras are pointing.
Herz said the information entered into the registry would not be made public.
She said her office will provide the information to police agencies, allowing officers and investigators to see who has security cameras in locations that are the focus of investigations. Without such information, Herz said, police would have to go door to door to see who has surveillance cameras.
“We are trying to reduce the time for the police to vote,” Herz said. She said the police “could go straight to the homes” using information from camera history.
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Dan Spisarny, Erie Police Chief, said he welcomes the establishment of the registry. Citing the case of Antonio Yarger, he said that surveillance video has become a crucial tool in solving crimes.
“The amount of time it takes to locate and collect the video and then watch it is massive,” Spizarny said. “Any steps that can be taken to reduce this amount of time will benefit the community in keeping it safe.”
Participation in the recording is voluntary, and participation does not mean that the police will have automatic access to the video.
Jessica Rieger, Herr’s senior deputy, said police would still need permission to obtain the video. It also stressed that the information would be “only for law enforcement purposes.”
“We really hope that everyone will take a look and consider sending in their cameras to help law enforcement,” Rieger said.
The Erie District Attorney’s Office announced on June 7 that its new website was live. The bureau developed it with Crimewatch Technologies, in York, Pennsylvania, which specializes in building websites for law enforcement agencies. The Crimewatch Technologies website of the Erie County District Attorney’s Office includes a downloadable application.
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office website also has a portal for advice, including anonymous and a list of community events for children and young adults.
Herz said investigators in the attorney general’s office are helping to operate the site. She said her office uses the proceeds from the forfeiture proceedings to pay Crimewatch Technologies for the location — $13,000 the first year and $11,000 the year after that.
Herz said her office uses drug confiscation funds for the site under regulations that allow forfeiture proceeds to be earmarked toward “community crime-fighting programs.” This area includes maintenance, training and support, Herz said.
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Herz said she asked Crimewatch Technologies to develop her office location after seeing his work for other county attorney’s offices.
“I looked around the state and saw other DA offices have this tool,” Herz said.
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Herz took office in January after Jack Daenerys, who had been the district attorney for the district since 2009 and was to be re-elected in 2023, retired. Herz, who was Daenery’s first assistant attorney general for eight years, said she would run for election in 2023.
Previous websites for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office were less comprehensive than the one adopted by Herz.
Herz said the goal of the Crimewatch Technologies website in her office — including the camera log — is to create new ways to “engage the community and fight crime.”