MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A bird's-eye view is helping police track down suspects and make quick arrests.
Between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m., trained officers monitor dozens of cameras throughout downtown, also known as Minneapolis Police Department's 1st Precinct, seven days a week.
It's a new element of policing this summer that has helped put suspected criminals caught in the act behind bars.
Inspector Michael Sullivan showed off the 1st Precinct's surveillance room, where they can monitor cameras perched on utility poles and traffic lights. Using a computer mouse, an officer can turn the cameras 360 degrees and zoom in without losing much clarity.
"We learned from last year this is really valuable. Let's continue do it every shift," said Inspector Sullivan.
Last summer, an officer monitored the cameras at night often, but not nightly. Having an officer there seven days a week during the evening and overnight hours is new this summer.
"We can't just have an officer who is just really good at the cameras. We need that, but we also need the officer who has a lot of street experience," he said.
Earlier in the month, the Downtown Improvement District installed a new camera at MPD's request on the north side of the Hennepin Avenue light rail station. On that very same day, it helped police make an arrest.
Police say on a busy weekend near the light rail station, officers on scene were responding to a fight. At that same time, the officer monitoring the cameras watched as a person exited a vehicle nearby, sneak behind a post, crouch down and pull out a handgun. When the man saw a squad car pull up, they say the man ran back to his car. The officer monitoring the cameras radioed to information to the officers on scene and the man was then arrested for a weapons violation.
"Who knows what we stopped, but I know that we got a gun and ammunition," Inspector Sullivan said.
Several weeks earlier, a person eating outside of Lyon's Pub was shot by a stray bullet during the dinner hour. Using suspect descriptions, police reviewed surveillance footage from cameras in the area of Sixth Street and Hennepin Avenue. Inspector Sullivan said using the footage and several cameras, they tracked a group matching the description of the suspected shooters all the way to the light rail station. Officers met them on the light rail and arrested all five suspects. "Since then two of those (suspects) have been charged with that shooting crime. That was another great success of the officers who are working these cameras," he said.
The recorded video also gives police evidence that could later be used to file criminal charges.
"When we're watching actual narcotics deals go down we can actually see the baggie going back and forth," he said. "So our officers are able to see this. They're making the probable cause determination right here, and then we're sending in officers, kind of 'swooping in' to make the arrests."
Standing beneath the recently installed camera along 5th Street, several people passing by, including Dominic Gill, said they were comfortable knowing police are keeping an eye on everyone.
"I don't think it really intrudes on anyone's privacy unless you're doing something that you're not supposed to be doing, like selling drugs, doing crimes," Dominic Gill said. "If it cuts down crime, it'll get them here faster, that definitely helps."
The Downtown Improvement District also has access to the cameras and uses them to dispatch teams that help with homeless outreach among other noncriminal concerns.
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