Doorbell cameras are the newest tool for police. Here’s how JSO plans to use yours — if you let them

One critic says security camera video programs like JSO’s are ‘creepy’ and ‘unconstitutional’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sheriffs in two local counties are asking you to give them access to your security cameras to help solve crimes faster and make communities safer.

Through these programs, residents and business owners can register their doorbell or other security cams so that when an incident occurs in a particular area, police know who may have video, or with an owner’s consent, offer a live view of what’s happening in real-time.

RELATED: You probably own a security camera. The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office wants to use it to fight crime

The News4JAX I-TEAM first told you about Connect St. Johns Wednesday night and spoke with St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick about how his team manages those registered cameras and those who opt to integrate their camera feeds.

Now the I-TEAM is learning more about a similar program launched last week by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office called Connect Duval.

JSO's Real Time Crime Center collects images and video from cameras around the county. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JSO’s Real Time Crime Center

The I-TEAM was taken into JSO’s Real-Time Crime Center where analysts have access to thousands of cameras – 200 are owned by JSO while the city and state own the rest. All of them give valuable information about crimes in progress throughout Jacksonville.

“And when a call comes in, the map will highlight those calls. The analysts will then see the cameras that are in close by. And they’ll actually interact with the officers,” said JSO’s Public Safety Analyst Supervisor Jay Duguay. “So, they can actually put pictures or videos out to the officers in almost near real-time. So, before the officer even arrives, sometimes they can put information out.”

MORE: Sheriff asks residents to join new ‘Connect Duval’ program, share home security video with JSO

But with the addition of Connect Duval, analysts will have access to thousands more cameras, something JSO says is a game changer.

“We can’t do our job without the community helping us. And this is just another tool for them to have and for us to have to work with each other,” said Mark Romano, JSO’s Director of Investigations.

Romano said this is how it will work: If there’s an incident, they’ll check the registry to see where the cameras are. JSO will then send an email asking them to share their footage. That video could show valuable information like a car speeding away or a missing person walking by.

“I have cameras inside and outside of my house. If I were to get this email notification, could I say, ‘I will show you what’s on the outside. But inside is my private residence and I don’t want to share that?’” reporter Vic Micolucci asked.

“Absolutely. You send us back what it is you want to share with us. That’s it,” answered Romano. “The only thing that we can see on our end is on a map. I can see where Vic Micolucci is a registered person. And we will send you the email, say, ‘Hey, Mr. Micolucci, we have something going on in your neighborhood. Anything you have on video for this time frame?’”

Map shows which security cameras JSO has access to on Jacksonville's Westside. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Cameras are crucial.

You may remember the January search for Germilus Nonord, a missing man with dementia. Connect Duval wasn’t in place yet, but officers used videos from neighbors’ cameras to get an idea of where Nonord was heading. Rescuers found him alive in the woods after three days of searching.

And on Wednesday, police used surveillance to find a missing man outside the Jaguars stadium.

There is a second option with Connect Duval: integration. Police are asking Jacksonville businesses to install a piece of equipment into their camera systems. Unlike the home cameras, this is a live feed that police can tap into and access for emergencies.

“Huge in safety for the community, huge in safety for the officers that are going to the scenes. We could potentially have a robbery in progress or active shooter, and we’ll actually be able to see inside,” Romano explained.

In 2016, an armed man took tellers and customers at a Jacksonville credit union hostage. Cameras recorded the incident, but police couldn’t see it until later. With integration, this upgrade, would change that. Thankfully, it ended peacefully.

PRIVACY: Connect Duval FAQs | Connect St. Johns FAQs

Not everyone is on board with programs like Connect Duval. The sheriff’s office has gotten pushback from residents concerned about their privacy. The I-TEAM spoke with Albert Fox Cahn with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

“When you create a network of cameras that makes it possible to track someone’s movements for hours days at a time, and you’re using that without a warrant. To me that isn’t just creepy, that’s unconstitutional,” he said.

JSO said the program is voluntary and will only use it for active cases — not for surveillance.

Here’s how Duval County residents and business owners can sign up:

  • To register your cameras, click “Camera Registration” at the top of the home page
  • Scroll down to click “Register Your Camera”
  • Enter your contact information
  • Enter your address
  • Add the number of internal and/or external cameras you want to register
  • Hit submit
  • To integrate, complete the registration process first, then select “Camera Integration” at the top of the home page and follow the steps.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.