Five local law enforcement agencies are getting more time to test a new technology that allows police to tap into live video feeds from privately owned security cameras.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has secured additional funding to continue a Fusus pilot program through next summer that local police agencies say should help improve inter-agency cooperation and coordination, especially when criminal activities cross jurisdictional lines.
The Fusus program is like a “technology-enabled neighborhood watch on steroids,” Yost said.
Dayton police Major Paul Saunders said the department is pleased the program has been extended through mid-2024.
“This will allow the department to benefit from the use of this program and continue to evaluate its efficacy,” he said.
Critics have said the technology poses a threat to privacy because it can greatly increase police departments’ surveillance abilities. Some community members have raised concerns that the video and information police collect could be used improperly.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Dayton, Trotwood, Miamisburg and West Carrollton are participating in the Technology Anonymized Law Enforcement Notification (TALEN) pilot program.
The Attorney General’s office launched the program a year ago after providing $250,000 in financial support.
Ohio’s Controlling Board recently approved a request from the Attorney General for $375,000 to amend its contract with Fusus LLC to continue to pay for the “crime fighting technology sharing software solution.”
Yost’s office says this funding will allow the pilot program to run through June 2024. The program was supposed to conclude at the end of July.
Fusus technology gives law enforcement agencies access to live video from privately owned cameras, if the owners agree to join the system.
Private and public cameras are connected to the network with small digital boxes that look like a basic modem or streaming device. Video streams are fed to a centralized location, but police officers in the field also can access videos and other information remotely.
Live video feeds can aid officers before they arrive at a service call or crime scene by giving them a look of what to expect, officials said.
Live video may provide police with information about potential suspects, witnesses and whether any vehicles were seen fleeing the scene, and cameras might even capture the crime itself, Yost said.
Fusus can help police agencies in different jurisdictions share information that can help track and apprehend suspects, Yost said.
“The officers are able to act in a coordinated way, knowing what each other knows, and not getting in each other’s way,” he said. “The bad guys don’t care about city limits.”
Caught suspect fleeing
Saunders said Fusus helped Dayton police locate a suspect who stabbed a homeless person downtown.
Officers accessed live video from a camera on the side of a school building that showed the suspect fleeing on foot on South Ludlow Street.
“The end result there was a very quick apprehension of a dangerous suspect,” Saunders said. “It happened in minutes rather than days or weeks.”
In addition to giving police access to live video, residents, property owners and businesses owners who have private security cameras can register the devices with law enforcement using the Fusus system.
Registration does not give police access to live video from the cameras.
Instead, the registry just tells police where private cameras are located if any incidents occur nearby. People who register their cameras also provide police with contact information so officers know who they reach out to if they want to request video footage.
The Dayton Police Department is not interested in connecting home security systems to its network, but businesses and other organizations are welcome to join, Saunders said.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office sometime soon expects to encourage residents to register their personal security cameras, like doorbell cameras from Ring, Nest, SimpliSafe other home security companies, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said.
Bugs in the system are still being worked out, but once they are addressed the registry will be ready to launch, officials said.
Miamisburg has had a few people register their cameras, but the police department expects to more aggressively pitch the opportunity to residents and businesses, said Miamisburg police Chief John Sedlak.
Sedlak said it took more time than expected to get all five police agencies up and running on the Fusus system.
But he said things are getting to the point where the system could start producing significant results and benefits.
Trotwood police Chief Erik Wilson said he’s glad the police agencies will have more time to use and evaluate this technology.
“This program has been very successful in other cities and major cities,” he said.
Police departments are getting smaller, and police agencies increasingly need to rely on technology to help improve public safety, Wilson said.
Wilson said he understands that some people have privacy concerns about technology like this, but these cameras are monitoring public spaces where people should not have an expectation of privacy.
Some local community members and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have criticized law enforcement’s use of Fusus, which they say supports police surveillance activities that threaten constitutionally protected activities.
“It gives police the ability to surreptitiously spy on and track people of no real or alleged criminal concern,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in an article earlier this year. “It creates caches of sensitive, personal information that can be retained indefinitely.”