Downtown surveillance cameras give police a 'bird's eye view' of crime

South Bend Police have had an increased presence in downtown South Bend with the opening of a new sub-station on south Michigan.

But did you know they are able to keep an eye on things even when they are not walking or biking the beat?

Let's just say they have a bird's eye view of things downtown.

At most major intersections in downtown South Bend, there are surveillance cameras.

Most residents do not know about them, even though they have been there for more than five years.

In fact, police are hoping more people know about them, especially the bad guys.

Just because a South Bend Police officer rides out of sight, does not mean someone can necessarily get away with a crime in downtown South Bend.

There are seven surveillance cameras above the streets there.

“They're on various fiber optic networks that help deliver control for the traffic lights, so anywhere we can get a traffic signal and power, it's a good place for a camera,” said Capt. Phil Trent of the South Bend Police Department.

Right now, the live images from the cameras are recorded and not monitored 24/7. But that could change down the road.

“Primarily, it's recorded and reviewed. At what point somebody would want to make the commitment to committing manpower for constant 24/7 monitoring. That would be a question, but basically it's a system that's available for review,” said Trent.

Even though police are not keeping an eye on these images all the time, they have already proven useful.

Back in July, two employees of the South Bend Chocolate Cafe took money from the safe in the early morning hours after the business had closed.

“And the suspects were captured on video and they were able to be ID’'d from that video so you never know when and where you might be and be captured on video,” said Trent.

And speaking of downtown businesses, Trent is hoping they team up with police to make this network of extra eyes even more effective.

“We'd like to partner with other businesses that have surveillance cameras and if they want to offer us the availability of their exterior video, we'd love to get that,” said Trent. “So, it's a project whose time is not completely flushed out yet, but it's certainly something we're very interested in supporting. “

And Trent says he thinks it's important to get the word out about the cameras.

“There's a very good chance, no matter where you are in the downtown area, you're going to, at some point, walk through and be caught on video. Even if the specific incident isn't, at least a person can be ID'd from this video,” said Trent.

Trent emphasizes that police want people to understand that they are cognizant of people's civil rights and these cameras would never be used to, for lack of a better term, spy on ordinary citizens.

These are stationary cameras, but they can cover a pretty large area. The camera that captured the two suspects at the Chocolate Café was shooting from three-quarters of a block away.

The cameras can also pan and zoom, so police can change the view or direction they are pointing.

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