CHICAGO (WLS) --Would you be willing to share video from your personal home security cameras for the greater good? More police will soon be asking.
Not long ago, only police captured crime on camera. Now, cheaper, smaller technology helps homeowners to expand their security systems by mounting cameras outside on their property.
Law enforcement officials said hidden in the routine footage of everyday life is potential evidence that could nab criminals and solve cases - and they want to tap into your personal investment.
"Without this video we had absolutely nothing," said Det. Kevin Jenkins, Aurora Police Dept. "This is just a private residence that happens to have a camera."
Along a busy road in Aurora, an arsonist is caught in action - and because of that camera, a man was arrested and has pleaded guilty. And in another video from Aurora, a man can be seen suddenly opening fire on a passing car. In suburban Hinsdale, a T-bone crash was captured on video at an intersection neighbors have warned is dangerous. All these events were captured on private homeowner cameras.
"I feel much safer having those cameras," said Annette Downey, a surveillance system owner.
The outdoor video streams to personal computer sites and smart phones 24/7. Police departments want in on the action.
"I think we solved more cases in law enforcement in general with camera technology and pictures of the offenders than we do with finger prints and DNA," said Chief Bradley Bloom, Hinsdale Police Dept.
Cops can seek out homes with cameras, but more municipalities want homeowners to voluntarily register their cameras so they can easily be added to a master map.
"It's all volunteer and we are not going to have remote access unles they want us to," said Det. Sgt. Matt Thomas, Aurora Police Dept.
Privacy advocates are uneasy in general with the government accessing personal video feeds. They say homeowners should at least get in writing all that they are agreeing to.
"What is the process for accessing the video? Who decides what is, if I refuse, are you going to try to get a court order? You know, what is the process for doing that if I tell you I have this system," said Ed Yohnka, ACLU of Illinois.
Some departments do provide detailed contracts for homeowners to sign. The Aurora Police Dept. told the I-Team it is now in the process of rolling out a registry program.
In other suburbs, registries with names such as "Block Watch" and "Security Through Surveillance" have been online for a couple years.
"In the past year, year-and-a-half, I've seen a great increase in video pulls from residential homes compared to businesses," said Sgt. Jim Bisceglie, who handles technical investigations at the Elgin Police Dept.
In Chicago - which already has one of the most sophisticated and extensive public video surveillance systems in the U.S. - plugging-in private sector cameras is a start-up initiative by the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. One police official says the plan has unlimited potential.
There is suspicion Hinsdale's 2-year-old program is growing, but has only 27 participants registered out of a possible 6,500 single family homes.
"I think residents are just afraid big brother is watching. But in this case, big brother is just asking for help," said Sgt. Mark Wodka, Hinsdale Police Dept.
"Because we have cameras we were able to actually say somebody stole it," said Emerald-Jane Hunter, a surveillance system owner.
Hunter's outside cameras partially solved the mystery of the missing packages that were delivered to her Chicago home in December. The video proves they were stolen, but so far the thief hasn't been caught.
Her cameras are not registered so she gave the footage to Chicago police - and that she says, is as far as she'll go.
"With regards to tapping into your cameras, that's where I draw the line," Hunter said.
Hunter said she might consider allowing Chicago police to put her address on a department map of where homeowner cameras are located, so if there's a nearby crime they'll know who to come to.
These registries are voluntary here, but New York and New Jersey tried to make them mandatory. It failed in New York and a watered down version passed in New Jersey, minus the $100 fine.
Elgin Surveillance Video program
The city of Elgin holds a class twice a year, free to the public, to help homeowners better understand the program and to find the best spots to install outdoor cameras.
Hinsdale Block Watch
Aurora Police Department