Capturing the crooks: Alberta RCMP expanding its video surveillance registry

Ian Huffman has been a part of the Diamond Valley Citizens on Patrol for just two years, but during the four decades he’s lived in the area, he’s heard plenty of stories during the about how crime is affecting the small southwestern Alberta communities of Turner Valley and Black Diamond.

For the most part, the crimes aren’t violent or deadly, but they do have an impact on their victims. They’re mostly fraud, theft and property damage offences. A big concern is vehicle, residential and business break-ins.

“There is crime,” said Huffman. “If it wasn’t a concern, you wouldn’t have groups like Citizens on Patrol doing things. We have a love of our community, and we want to make sure it stays safe.”

Huffman and his team venture out a couple times a week on the prowl for suspicious activity. They don’t intervene in active crimes; they act as a separate set of eyes in the area and alert the RCMP if something comes up.

“We look, we listen, we record and we report,” he said.

And that’s why he’s supportive of the RCMP’s latest crime-fighting initiative: CAPTURE, which stands for Community Assisted Policing Through Use of Recorded Evidence. It’s a voluntary registry for residential and commercial property owners and managers to let the RCMP know if they have a video surveillance or doorbell camera system on their property.

A surveillance camera outside a home in Turner Valley, Alta. The homeowner was unaware of a camera registry program launched by the RCMP last spring. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Turner Valley and Black Diamond, soon to be amalgamated as Diamond Valley, sit within the Municipal District of Foothills. The local RCMP detachment based in Turner Valley covers the entire district, with the exception of the towns of Okotoks and High River, which have their own detachments.

Const. Sharmarke Issa is one of the officers overseeing the CAPTURE program in Turner Valley, where it launched last spring. He says property owners are asked to provide specific details about their surveillance equipment.

“Where is their camera? Where is it facing? Which street? What direction? How many cameras do you have?” 

Const. Sharmarke Issa, who is based in Turner Valley, Alta., is helping to oversee a video surveillance registry system for home and business owners in the Municipal District of Foothills. The registry can help police pinpoint the location of cameras and possible video evidence in the community. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Issa says as officers gather more information about cameras in the community, they will put together a detailed registry that pinpoints which areas are potentially under surveillance.

“If we’re looking for something in particular, and we would say this house has cameras facing this way, this vehicle drove through this way. So we know which house to call.”

Program expanding

The RCMP in Red Deer lay claim to the first CAPTURE program in Alberta. It has since expanded to about a dozen other communities in the province, including Chestermere, Sylvan Lake, Blackfalds, Innisfail, Rimbey and Rocky Mountain House.

Staff Sgt. Jay Peden, who started the program in Red Deer in 2017, says they now have about 300 registered cameras. He says it has helped police solve a variety of crimes, including the tracking of stolen vehicles or vehicles that were used during a crime. 

“It can be used to identify individuals. It can be used for identifying vehicles and directions to travel and give us some leads to follow up on if we don’t have any eyewitnesses.”

He says they still canvas neighbourhoods for evidence, but the registry does help.

“This just gives us a little bit of a head start,” he said.

Peden says cameras registered in the program captured suspects involved in a street fight and a separate case involving criminal harassment. He says in both incidents charges were laid.

Peden says they can ask the home or business owner to share the footage, something they stress is voluntary and secure.

The RCMP say they do not have access to anyone’s recorded footage without their consent, and that includes live video feeds.

Security camera footage as shown in an RCMP video promoting the CAPTURE program, a video camera registry program for home and business owners. (RCMP)

Peden says ultimately police can obtain a warrant to seize the footage if they believe the owner of the surveillance system has relevant evidence.

“For us to have grounds to do a judicial authorization, there has to be knowledge of footage,” he said. “In the end, the goal here and the mandate is a voluntary registry and we want to honour that as best we can to respect an individual’s privacy, and their willingness to participate.”

He says homeowners are not always compelled to testify if the footage is used in a court proceeding. Instead, they can provide a sworn statement about the authenticity of the footage and that it wasn’t altered or edited.

“We do have ways to minimize that impact or the requirement for individuals to attend court.”

Back in Diamond Valley, Issa says they’ve only signed up a couple dozen cameras so far, but he’s hoping for more.

“We’re looking for the whole county.… The more people we have, the more we can use that evidence,” he said.


Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

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