One of Kern County’s most notorious homicides was solved in part because the perpetrator was caught at the scene on video surveillance.
Now, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office hopes cameras will play a role in solving many more crimes, but it needs the community’s help first.
The Sheriff’s Office debuted a new community program on Aug. 28 that allows residents to register their cameras into a county database for potential use in investigations.
“The idea is to essentially help speed up the process of knowing where video is when a crime occurs,” said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Angela Monroe.
To be clear, the Sheriff’s Office will not have remote access to registered cameras. The department will only know the addresses of camera-owners who have filled out an online form, along with contact information and a few details about the camera itself.
"If you register your camera, we have no access to it. We can’t see it. We can’t get into your system. That’s not the intent,” Sheriff Donny Youngblood said at a press conference announcing the program. “The intent is to know where these cameras are located so we can go get information much quicker than going door to door and yard to yard, and asking people if they have cameras. That’s very time intensive.”
The large proliferation of cameras over recent years has made the program possible. Video doorbells made by Ring have become popular recently, and can be registered with the Sheriff’s Office.
The devices record when motion is detected, and save the footage in cloud storage, potentially usable by law enforcement agencies.
Even devices that did not directly capture a crime taking place could be useful for the Sheriff’s Office.
“Sometimes people may think that ‘I didn’t capture this crime on my video,’” Chief Deputy Larry McCurtain said in a video promoting the program. “That may be true, but a lot of times we may use the video because whoever committed that crime had to either travel one direction, or come from another direction, and we’re able to piece it together and paint a bigger picture on what happened.”
In the case of the homicide of Robert Limon, who was shot by firefighter Jonathan Hearn in 2014, cameras played a crucial role in tracking the killer’s movements prior to and after the murder.
The Sheriff’s Office believes that if enough Kern County residents sign up for the program, investigations could be completed much faster.
Previously, deputies would walk from house to house to look for surveillance cameras in an area where a crime had occurred. With the surveillance camera database, the Sheriff’s Office plans to know instantly where cameras are located relative to crime scenes.
“It would be great to know that we have one person that has camera footage on every block,” Monroe said. “I really think this is a way for the community to be able to partner with us.”
Within hours of the announcement, 31 people had signed up.
Those with camera systems can register at kernsheriff.org/Camera_Program.