'Eye on Crime' Cameras Gaining Popularity in Tampa

On June 7, a man walked into an Express Mart on North 56th Street. He pulled out a short-barreled shotgun and pointed it at the clerk and his 9-year-old daughter who were behind the counter. After robbing about $300 from the convenience store, the gunman fled the scene.

The following day, the gunman struck again. This time he robbed the Tierra Mexicana grocery store in Plant City. He stole an unknown amount of money, once again at gunpoint.

Ten days later, he stuck three more stores in Manatee County, Wimauma, and Land O’ Lakes.

In some of the robberies, witnesses reported seeing a blue or green Ford Expedition.

The robber may have gotten away with it if it weren’t for the “Eye on Crime” cameras and license tag readers, which were installed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and funded by federal grants.

After footage showed the blue Ford Expedition driving near the Express Mart around the time of the June 7 robbery, the authorities were able to link the vehicle back to its owner, L. Green of Orlando, according to a complaint.

Eventually, officials were able to identify their suspect, J. Rivera, who was Green’s boyfriend.

Green told the detectives that Rivera would drive her vehicle whenever he wanted, and that he often drove off while they were in Tampa and would return with cigarettes. She assumed that he had gone to the store.

Investigators were led to a motel room where they found clothing worn in some of the surveillance videos of the robberies, a box of latex gloves that were identical to the ones worn by the robber, and ammunition for a 12-gauge shotgun.

The SUV yielded more evidence, including a sawed-off shotgun and ammunition.

Kevin Richardson, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that the Eye on Crime cameras were the key to solving the robberies. The cameras are enhancing investigations and they helped catch the suspect in this case, said Richardson.

Eye on Crime Cameras Proving Useful

According to the Tampa Bay Tribune, the cameras were installed in 2010 due to a $1 million federal grant. Because of additional grants, the number of cameras went from 20 to 38, with six additional tag readers.

Ten more cameras and six more tag readers will be installed by Oct. 1, said Christi Esquinaldo, the sheriff’s investigative lieutenant in District 1.

Additionally, the cameras can be operated by detectives and road deputies from their laptops when needed to check on criminal activity or aid in an investigation.

When vehicles are stolen, or when children or people are abducted, the tag reading cameras automatically screen license plate numbers of stolen vehicles or vehicles wanted in connection with criminal investigations.

Esquinaldo said that the videos are stored for 30 days. If there is crime in an area and there is a vehicle description, officers can review video archives, focusing on the 30 minutes before and after an incident.

The cameras are gaining in popularity each year. The sheriff’s logo and blue flashing lights make them very obvious. Most of the new cameras will be installed on private property; for example, at apartment complexes in high crime areas, with the permission of the property owners.

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