While politicians quibble over red-light cameras, one group uniformly supports the high-tech surveillance systems: detectives pursuing people suspected of crimes worse than traffic infractions.
At least twice, homicide investigators with the St. Petersburg Police Department have reviewed red-light camera footage to track and build evidence against suspected killers.
Detectives in Clearwater, which also employs red-light cameras, have also viewed footage, trying to solve a property crime, said Elizabeth Watts, Clearwater’s public safety spokeswoman.
And Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies have viewed footage from the cameras in South Pasadena to determine who was at fault in at least one traffic wreck, said sheriff’s office Sgt. Dave DiSano.
It’s not likely footage red-light camera footage would prove to be the most crucial piece of evidence in a criminal case, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz. For one, the cameras never capture the image of the person driving the car.
But they do give law enforcement another tool to help solve crimes.
In a best-case scenario, the cameras might capture the license plate in a case where investigators didn’t have one, Puetz said. That could help police narrow the list of suspects.
“Unless the murder takes place at the intersection, it’s never going to be the sole thing you rely on to be able to make your case,” Puetz said. “It’s a tiny piece of the puzzle, but a helpful piece of the puzzle.”
St. Petersburg detectives reviewed red-light camera footage while building a case against a man who killed two men in Kenwood Sept. 30 and then set fire to the house they were working on.
That same day, a camera at 34th Street and 22nd Avenue South captured the image of a Ford F-150 pickup that Michael Norris stole from the house for his getaway, Puetz said. The truck later turned up abandoned and burned in Tampa.
Norris pleaded guilty in February to two counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
The evidence against him was overwhelming. He left his prison-issued identification in a backpack at the house before he drove off and gave the gun used to shoot the men to his girlfriend. The camera footage helped investigators track his whereabouts, Puetz said.
On Jan. 14, the red-light cameras at that intersection helped police track the movements of a suspect in a shooting at an apartment complex.
Footage from that same intersection could prove crucial in determining who was at fault in a recent crash there.
One camera has already shown the driver of a tour bus transporting college baseball players ran the light there on March 20 before slamming into a Buick, seriously injuring its two occupants. Investigators are reviewing footage from a different camera at the intersection before deciding whether to charge anyone, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt.