Angels Camp Police Chief Scott Ellis said private surveillance footage helped capture two suspects behind a brazen early morning burglary at Nellie Lou’s antiques shop in October 2018 and could have assisted in identifying a woman who hit a 14-year old girl outside of Mark Twain Elementary School in January.
The department hopes to know where surveillance cameras are watching the streets with a new, optional video surveillance camera registration program for the public.
“This is for anybody that’s willing to share information with us. We’re not asking for access to your cameras, we’re asking for them to be available should a crime occur and we can look at them for gathering suspect information,” Ellis said.
There have been no registrations since the program was announced on Wednesday, but Ellis said he hoped to remind the public of the strategic importance surveillance footage has in identifying suspects and securing convictions.
Last week, Ellis responded to a service call from Camps Restaurant on 711 McCauley Ranch Road, in the Greenhorn Creek region of Angels Camp.
An employee told him a man went into a walk-in freezer and stole a 3-gallon container of ice cream, two cheesecakes and a hand-truck to haul the items away. Ellis said he reviewed the business surveillance footage and recognized the man from previous contacts as a local transient.
“It was minor petty theft, but when confronted with video surveillance, he admitted to the whole thing,” Ellis said.
The plan is intended to create a database of both businesses and residences that have operating surveillance cameras.
A registration sheet asks individuals to identify themselves with contact information, as well as provide the number and location of their cameras. The registration also asks what the recording period is for the video (i.e. motion activated or 24/7), how long they are retained and if there is a live feed that can be provided to the department.
Providing the information does not give the police department access to the surveillance without the permission of the owner, Ellis said.
Ellis said he was hesitant about initiating the program at first because he expected blowback from members of the public concerned about draconian scrutiny or Big Brother style intelligence states. He said he learned of a similar program while working with the Turlock Police Department and there was limited opposition until people realized its criminal justice benefits.
“We’re just looking for assistance in solving crimes. We’re not asking for passwords or access codes so we can look at it any time we want. Were going to do it with the business owner present and with their permission and only during those times,” he said.
The program is confidential to the police department and registrants can opt-out with a written notice.
“It's just for criminal investigative purposes only or a missing juvenile,” he said. “It just makes sense to me that it would be beneficial to the department.”
One of the main reasons for starting the program was the small size of the department and its limited resources, Ellis said.
Investigators relied on an eyewitness and surveillance footage from Angels Theatre to locate a person who smashed through the glass door of Nellie Lou’s Antiques and Things in the early morning of Oct. 3, 2018, and fled with $40,000 worth of jewelry and merchandise stuffed into a pillowcase. Before running, the suspect doused a jewelry case in bleach and lit a fire on an antique quilt.
“There were still photos of a suspect leaving the area,” he said. “That's an example where surveillance cameras helped.”
When a 14-year old girl was hit by a driver in a dark-colored sedan outside of Mark Twain Elementary School in Angels Camp on Jan. 10, the lack of surveillance footage proved to be a detriment.
The 14-year-old sustained minor injuries. A physical description was provided of the driver and photo was issued to officers, but the driver was never identified, Ellis said.
“The vehicle left down Mark Twain [Drive],” Ellis said. “If someone in that area had video surveillance that we knew of, it could have been helpful in getting a license plate number.”
Ellis said he did not have any data pertaining to the total amount of private cameras in the city limits. Officers often will use previous knowledge or experience to identify where cameras are located.
Sonora Police Chief Turu VanderWiel commended Angels Camp and said Sonora considered a similar program in the past.
“I think it's a great resource and a great community-oriented policing tool to get the community involved in solving crimes in our area,” he said. “It’s something to explore moving forward.”
Sonora Police Officer Ashley Brandow said security cameras could assist in solving a golf ball-related mystery in the Myers Hill and Lyons Road region on the outskirts of downtown Sonora.
“There’s no surveillance from private citizens so far. I think it would be very helpful with this case,” she said.
Eight reports related to golf balls, and all within a half-mile between Shepherd Street and Hope Lane, and Jackson and Lyons streets, were reported to the department since August 2018.
According to Sonora Police Department logs from Wednesday, two people reported golf ball-related incidents from the previous night. One person on East Jackson Street said their rear vehicle window was broken by a golf ball, while a person on Oakside Street said someone threw a ball at his residence at 10:30 p.m., but it caused no damage.
In previous reports, balls have hit homes in the middle of the night, shattered windows or were found in yards, Brandow said. Some have been found on Terrace Avenue and Palemone Street, south of Lyons street.
It is still undetermined if the damages were caused by someone driving the balls with a golf club or throwing them out of a moving vehicle, Brandow said.
If surveillance footage was available, it could be invaluable to solving the mystery.