Slow start to 'Virtual Block Watch' program in Phoenix

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(3TV/CBS 5) -

Five months into the Phoenix Police Department's Virtual Block Watch Program, the number of participants is far lower than police had hoped.

Police estimate there are 700,000 households in Phoenix. It is impossible to know what percentage of homes have surveillance systems, but that number is growing by the day.

Currently, only 17 businesses and 130 homes have registered to take part in the Virtual Block Watch Program, which launched on March 1.  

“Without being intrusive, we are interested in having voluntary participants opt into the program, let us know that they have systems, that they are recording, that they have the ability to store that footage and they are interested in helping to reduce crime in their neighborhood,” said Sgt. Vince Lewis, spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department.

Luke Bevans is a Phoenix resident who has 11 cameras placed in various places around his home. He also works out of a commercial building in central Phoenix with a camera system.

Bevans heard about the Virtual Block Watch Program months ago and immediately signed up his business but he was hesitant to register his home.

“I think when I looked at the commercial side as opposed to the residential, I was a little more cautious with the residential, not knowing what all information they needed. I didn’t know if they would have direct access to the cameras or not. Obviously, they do not and it’s very clear on the website that they do not,” said Bevans.

Police agree the misconception that they will tap into a person’s surveillance system or cameras and be able to live view, is probably one of the main reasons more people are not participating.  

“We don’t have access and we’re not interested in live feed access through this program. That’s not our right and that’s not what we’re interested in,” said Lewis.

The program operates similarly to a pin map. If you sign up your home or business, police put your location on a map. They note how many cameras you have, what angles they capture and your contact information. Then if a crime happens in a specific area, detectives can access the map and see if there are surveillance systems nearby that may have captured video that could help solve the crime.

“From there it would be a phone call or a visit to the home to say a crime occurred between these hours on this date we’re interested in if you have any footage of value,” said Lewis.

All the information provided police is secure and for law enforcement use only. It is not accessible to the public.

“I think it’s a great idea, you know? Communities that are sticking together, if something happened down the street and the car drove past my house, if my cameras can help solve that crime, I’m all for giving up the footage,” said Bevans.

Once Bevans learned more about how the program worked, he was no longer hesitant and signed up his home. He hopes more homeowners and businesses will follow suit.

“Even if the crime doesn’t happen at your place, the guy may have walked by or drove by and maybe your camera can put him in jail,” said Bevans.

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Donna RossiEmmy Award-winning reporter Donna Rossi joined CBS 5 News in September 1994.

Click to learn more about Donna.

Donna Rossi

In that time, Donna has covered some of the most high-profile stories in the Valley and across the state. Donna's experience as a four-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department gives her a keen sense of crime and court stories. She offered gavel to gavel coverage of the 1999 sleepwalking murder trial of Scott Falater, and the trial and conviction of retired Catholic Bishop Thomas O'Brien for a fatal hit and run accident. She also spent 2 straight weeks in northeastern Arizona in the summer of 2011 covering the Wallow Fire, the largest wildfire in Arizona history.

Donna's reputation as a fair and accurate journalist has earned her the respect of her colleagues and community. Her talent as a reporter has earned her more than a dozen Arizona Associated Press Awards and five Emmy statue.

Donna previously worked as an anchor and reporter in Tucson and got her start in broadcast journalism in Flagstaff. Donna is a past president of the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the NATAS board. She is a member of IFP/Phoenix, a non-profit organization of local film and documentary makers.

Donna was born in New York and moved to the Valley with her family when she was 9 years old. She is a graduate of Maryvale High School and attended Arizona State University. She graduated cum laude from Northern Arizona University.

In her free time, Donna enjoys boating on Bartlett Lake, all forms of music and theatre. Donna frequently donates her time to speak to community organizations and emcee their events. She is a past board member of DUET, a non-profit which helps promote health and well-being for older adults. Donna also loves donating her time to youth organizations and groups who work to secure and safeguard human rights.

On Oct. 17, 2015, Donna was honored for her amazing work over the years. The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the National Academy of Televisions Arts and Sciences inducted her into its Silver Circle. It's one of the organization's most prestigious honors for which only a few candidates are selected each year.

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