GREENFIELD — Jeff Rasche remembers the conversation.
Nearly two decades ago, he was sitting in a meeting with other investigators wracking their brains for new leads in the still-unsolved rape and murder of 11-year-old Peggy Sue Altes, whose body was found in a Hancock County field in the 1980s.
Wouldn’t it have been nice, one of the investigators remarked, if someone living near the crime scene had had a camera posted outside their home, had caught the suspects on video. Then they’d know what happened to little Peggy Sue.
The idea seemed laughable in the late 1990s, Rasche said; video surveillance systems were fairly new and still expensive, and few community members could afford to put them outside their homes.
But times have changed, and now the Greenfield Police Department wants the public’s help creating a database of cameras located around the city that might catch criminals in the act. Officers say they’ll reference the list when investigating crimes, calling upon those residents who volunteer their footage.
The department force is asking community members — whether residents or business owners — to register their surveillance systems by filling out an online form, giving the department some information about their camera’s location and a way to contact the owner.
Rasche, the department’s chief, said the information will be compiled into a list detectives can reference when investigating crimes, saving officers, in some cases, from having to go door to door looking for footage.
That knocking, that combing a neighborhood looking for the one family who might have a security system, takes resources away from an investigation, Rasche said. The new database will give them a ready-made list to consult, he said.
This week, the police department put a plea up on its Facebook page asking homeowners to register their cameras, and officers are encouraged by the response.
Already, they’ve had 16 people sign up, said Lt. J.D. Fortner. They hope the list will one day grow to encompass the entire county.
Police have asked participants to provide their name, address, contact information and quick details about what kinds of cameras they have and how long they record.
Residents and business owners put up security cameras with the hope of catching someone illegally coming onto their property, but those cameras usually catch the sidewalks and roadways nearby. Those recordings could help officers catch a suspect in a break-in up the road or around the block, Fortner said.
Video footage makes for a more solid case, detective Lt. Randy Ratliff said. Instead of relying on witnesses’ memories, they have a picture of the suspect’s clothing, physical features or face, he said.
And by the time a case makes it the courtroom, that footage provides a solid bit of evidence that can lead to a conviction, Rasche said.
“Juries want to see that,” he said. “They want to see the action and know exactly what happened.”
The Greenfield Police Department is making a database of local security cameras to aid investigations when needed. Footage can be useful in the event of a break-in or other crimes. To register yours, contact the department at 317-477-4410 or firstname.lastname@example.org.