RED WING, Minn. — There are eyes everywhere, and Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly wants to know how to find them.
The sheriff's office is asking residents in Goodhue County to voluntarily register their security cameras — everything from business security cameras to doorbell cameras on homes — to build a database of where those helpful eyes are located.
"People are getting those Ring doorbells and cameras," Kelly said. "And that is a big tool for crime solving. If people are willing to share their footage and a house is down the block is burglarized, it can give us a lead on a vehicle or a suspect."
Cameras have long been used to solve crimes.
Kelly mentioned a robbery in Cannon Falls, Minn., in May 2018 where one of the perpetrators was caught via an ignition interlock device camera at the scene of the crime. That man, Terrell Reese Schaeffer, was sentenced to two consecutive 54-month prison terms as well as a third 54-month term to be served concurrently.
Rochester Police Capt. Casey Moilanen said the RPD has solved more crimes using video than he can count.
"We have actually solved some homicides from some surveillance videos people have," Moilanen said.
The department previously worked with a company to register cameras, but that company went out of business and when the city's contract then ended, RPD did not renew the efforts to register cameras in the city.
Winona County Sheriff Ron Ganrude said his department too has used video surveillance on more than one occasion to catch a perpetrator, but his office does not have a registration program.
Goodhue County Deputy Jen Hofschulte said it's important the public not have any misconceptions about the program. For example, the sheriff's office would not have direct access to any videos or cameras.
"People were concerned we’d actually have access to their cameras," Hofschulte said of questions that have been asked by the public. Instead, the sheriff's office would simply compile the list of where cameras were located. "What this information does is let us know who to ask."
One person who can be asked in Goodhue County is Jason Johnson. The Pine Island resident and city council member is also a sergeant with the sheriff's office. But he registered the doorbell cameras at his own home to help the effort.
"If there’s a burglary next door, you can go back and see something like a description of a car," Johnson said.
Johnson said he signed up on the Goodhue County Sheriff's website soon after Hofschulte kicked off the program. Now, as a member of the sheriff's office, he talks to people he meets and asks them to register their cameras as well.
"I mention it to people when I'm doing my job," Johnson said. "If I see those cameras, I tell people."
While the program is really about collecting clues or evidence to help solve crimes, Johnson said considering the proliferation of security cameras, which used to be just the purview of businesses, among average homeowners, knowing that their actions might be caught on video might make criminals think twice.
"There are cameras everywhere now, as you know," he said. "Maybe they won’t take the risk."
Johnson added that the cameras could be helpful to find people such as individuals who are mentally challenged or the elderly who might wander from home. The cameras might see them and record the direction they went.
Kelly said the registration program helps his deputies so they won't necessarily have to canvas neighborhoods looking for someone with a camera. Instead, the list can lead them to registered cameras. Then, investigators would ask people who have registered their cameras to review the video themselves and, if they find something, forward that video to investigators.
"We’re not always there when you need a police officer or deputy," Kelly said. "But I’m looking forward to when we have our first case solved by one of these cameras."