I-Team asks cities for their surveillance policies
LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — An 8 News Now I-Team investigation found police agencies across the Las Vegas valley are not recording the nearly 1,000 traffic cameras available to them — detectives say having access to that data could solve nearly all crime.
More than 900 digital eyes from the Regional Transportation Commission are monitoring freeways and major intersections across southern Nevada. The feeds come back to a traffic management center in Las Vegas, where staff watches for crashes and delays to send resources.
The RTC puts out live feeds from several hundred of its cameras. The I-Team found while the government may not be recording them, private citizens are.
“If the cameras on the streets recorded, our solvability rate would be unbelievable,” Las Vegas Metro police homicide Lt. Ray Spencer said. “From doing hundreds of these investigations you’d be shocked about how bad quality video is.”
In solving crime, video is everything. While cameras are seemingly everywhere, those who appear to be in the most need to solve the most heinous of crimes, do not have immediate access to the ones already watching us.
Instead, investigators like Spencer are relying on businesses, even doorbell cameras, to gather any clues.
“Hundreds of man-hours go into these cases and that’s usually our first source of any information,” Spencer said.
Even near one of the most-watched places in the world, the Las Vegas Strip, surveillance can be poor. Detectives released video showing a woman being shot and killed on Interstate 15 in 2020, but nearly 2 years later, the blurriness makes it hard to pick out anything substantial.
The video appears to come from a nearby building and not from a traffic camera, even though cameras line the busy freeway.
“You’re shot and killed on one of the busiest freeways near the Las Vegas Strip with thousands of surveillance cameras, but it’s far and the footage isn’t good enough,” Spencer said.
Other communities have implemented surveillance systems to fix that. The I-Team asked major cities across the country about their cameras systems.
In Denver, a network of nearly 300 cameras is monitoring for crime. The HALO cameras store data for up to a month. HALO stands for high activity location cameras. The company, which sells the cameras and the system to run them and record them, did not respond to a request for comment.
The system does not use facial recognition, police said.
Denver police told the 8 News Now I-Team that the HALO cameras helped solve 68 of 96 homicides last year. Denver police also noted the cameras helped to exonerate suspects, too.
Austin police also use the HALO system, but with a small footprint of 58 cameras. Police in Austin save the data for two weeks.
The total cost for Austin’s system was $600,000, police told the I-Team. Annual maintenance costs taxpayers about $80,000 each year.
“As an investigator, I’d absolutely love to have that as a tool because I would solve 99% of every murder we investigate,” Spencer said. “However, you have to realize it would be a very costly and complex issue.”
The I-Team found no evidence local police are using the traffic network to solve crime — state law forbids them, at least in traffic-related infractions.
A Nevada law passed in 1999 prohibits police from using photos or video “for gathering evidence” unless the camera itself is in a police officer’s hand or in their car.