Whether to deter break-ins, catch porch package thieves or just give oneself peace of mind, video surveillance cameras are becoming more and more popular for both residents and business owners.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office wants to take advantage of this phenomenon by asking those with security systems to register them with the county in order to create a local database.

First things first: This does not mean the county would have access to residents' security systems. The Community Watch Cameras program simply lets law enforcement know if any houses or businesses near the area of a crime might have captured surveillance footage. They can then ask the property owner for access to the video.

"It's just a list, so internally, we have map in place that's viewable to law enforcement," Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said Friday, March 22, noting he has seen online comments about the program mentioning Big Brother and saying things like it's just another way for the government to pry into citizens' lives.

"We are not asking for login rights or anything else," he added. "All we want is that database so that if something comes up we have a quick reference guide of where to go and where to start."

After rolling out a viewable crime mapping system for residents in June 2018, the sheriff's office settled on the security camera database as one more tactic aimed at soliciting community help when it comes to reporting and solving crime.

"We've got a great number of homes in and throughout our community that have camera systems already," Goddard said. "And it's kind of becoming the norm to ask the question when we're doing investigations, 'Was there any businesses close or was there any houses close that possibly have video?'"

A member of the sheriff's department brought the Community Watch Cameras idea forward after seeing a similar system in another state, and the sheriff thought it would be a perfect fit for Crow Wing County.

"This model's been out there, it's been used, and I think this is absolutely perfect," Goddard said, "especially with the problem we have with such a large population that is maybe only here Friday, Saturday, Sunday."

Not only does Goddard hope this program helps solve crimes, he sees a future with Community Watch Cameras stickers available for those who are part of the program to post near their security systems and discourage potential criminals to strike in the first place.

"In my mind, the criminal element that is doing the burglaries, the thefts, everything else, they know that it's hard to break into a home with an alarm," he said. "They know it's hard to go somewhere where there's video surveillance."

Crow Wing County's information technology department developed the program in-house and launched it Thursday afternoon. Before noon Friday, Goddard said about 20-30 people had already signed up.

Registration for Community Watch Cameras is available on the Crow Wing County website, https://crowwing.us/, the sheriff's office website, https://crowwing.us/92/Sheriff; or on the sheriff's office Facebook page. Click the "Community Watch Cameras" icon and fill and submit the form. Both residents and businesses owners can register.

Because crimes are not always reported right away, the longer security camera owners can keep their footage the better, the sheriff said, acknowledging all systems are different and may have limitations on how long video is stored.

"We just want to have that list," Goddard said. "It'll make it more accessible and quicker for us to be able to determine where we need to go for help."