Does the Surrey RCMP need a surveillance camera database?

Surrey's director of Public Safety Strategies was at a community forum collecting ideas for his comprehensive safety strategy when a business owner started to speak. After a couple of sentences, Waterhouse knew the man was on to something ...

Surrey will soon launch Project Iris, which is based on a CCTV program out of Philadelphia

An Alberta business that sells security surveillance systems is getting more calls from farmers and ranchers concerned about an uptick in property crime. (Thomas Gerbet/Radio-Canada)

Sometime between April and July, Surrey's director of Public Safety Strategies was spending another evening listening to people.

Terry Waterhouse was at a community forum collecting ideas for his comprehensive safety strategy when a business owner started to speak.

After a couple of sentences, Waterhouse knew the man was on to something.

"There had been an accident and someone was injured in front of his business," Waterhouse said.

"His security cameras caught it, but he didn't realize until later that his footage could be used as evidence for a hit-and-run accident."

The man told Waterhouse the RCMP should have a database that pinpoints where security cameras are located in the city.

That way, police know exactly where to find video footage when a crime is committed.

Borrowed idea

Waterhouse started researching surveillance camera databases and came across the SafeCam program in Philadelphia.

For the last four years, residents and business owners have been able to register their cameras with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Investigators say SafeCam has helped them solve everything from break-and-enter cases to child abductions.

One of the program's biggest successes came in November, 2014 when a woman was randomly snatched off the street.

A few days after police released SafeCam footage of the incident, a 37-year-old man was arrested in Maryland.

He is now serving a 35-year prison sentence.

New Orleans, Baltimore and a growing list of other American cities are copying SafeCam.

Waterhouse says Surrey will soon join that list too, albeit with some slight revisions.

"They have a much more comprehensive approach in Philadelphia than we would envision here because ... in addition to that program, they have done a lot more work on surveillance," Waterhouse said.

He calls his program Project Iris, which stands for Integrated Resources for Investigations and Safety.

Big brother?

Waterhouse says he has collaborated with the B.C. Privacy Commissioner's Office to ensure the program doesn't violate anyone's rights.

"The important parts are that it is completely voluntary and also, it's voluntary in the sense that if they do have the footage, whether or not they provide it [to police] is voluntary as well," he said.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association policy director Micheal Vonn says she has one small concern about Project Iris.

"We don't want to encourage businesses to over-collect information," she said.

"If you are collecting information on your property and you have appropriate signage, all of that is fine. What you can't do is, you can't collect footage in a public space as a private entity. You're governed by the private sector privacy legislation."