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Helena Police Department unveils exterior security camera map

Posted at 2:17 PM, Jan 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-02 16:17:35-05

HELENA — Security camera video and images have become important tools in solving crime, which is why the Helena Police Department rolled out a new map to help investigators locate security cameras more quickly.

The new map plots the location of exterior cameras throughout the city. Businesses and residential security camera owners can opt-in to have the location of their exterior cameras listed on the map.

“This is a tool for officers to have that will quicken the investigation process,” Helena Police Department Detective Sgt. Adam Shanks said.

Security camera video has played an important role in some recent high-profile cases. In the case of four murdered University of Idaho students, an image of the suspect’s vehicle caught on security cameras helped law enforcement identify the man eventually arrested—Brian Kohberger.

Video surveillance from in and around the US Capitol also helped investigators identify multiple Jan. 6, 2021 rioters.

Video and images have also helped solve crimes in Helena, like an August 2022 shooting that left two people injured Stewart Homes complex.

“We were able to get the suspect vehicle on a camera, and we were able to track that vehicle on another camera,” Shanks said. “Based off the different angles and different video qualities, we were able to definitely say this vehicle is that vehicle—that’s initially how that case was broken open.”

Jory Songer was arrested, charged, and convicted, and is now serving time in the Montana State Prison.

Finding video to identify or track a suspect or vehicle takes time and can involve officers on the street canvassing neighborhoods for cameras. Time is not always a luxury investigators have, which is why the new security camera map is an important tool.

“If we do have a threat to the public, then we’re not spending four or five hours walking door to door—now we can just look and say, ‘these places have cameras, let’s go there first,’” Shanks said.

Quickly locating cameras is also important because there can be a limit on how long video is saved.

Shanks said some security systems can hold video for 30 days, others seven days and some just a few hours.

“Having that quickness to it also prevents evidence being lost,” Shanks said.

Right now, Shanks said businesses with exterior cameras are mapped, but he said he is hoping to see more residential camera owners opt-in to share their locations. Opting-in does not give HPD access to a surveillance system nor the video on it, it is merely location information so investigators can see where cameras are. The map is also not a public database, it is only accessible by HPD.

If a camera could have caught something useful for solving a crime, Shanks said HPD will ask the camera owner for video and images from a specific time.

Camera owners can find more information and opt-in to being listed on the security camera map here.