Durham Police Shoot Pictures to Deter Crime
Posted June 21, 1999
DURHAM — Durham policeofficers have a new weapon to bust suspected drug dealers. Police are packing heat and carrying cameras.
Officers hope the fear of being photographed will make suspects think twice about breaking the law.
The department is using the pictures as an enforcement tool, and officers say it is an effective method of deterring crime.
Like most of his fellow officers, Kevin Emanuel puts on a gun and a badge before patrolling Durham's south side. After orders from the chief, the crime-fighting tool he uses the most is a digital camera. He has an unusual collection of shots.
"For court purposes, we take pictures of the money and the drugs that we confiscate," Emanuel said.
Emanuel is part of Durham's Community Activation Target Team. They usually keep their guns in their holsters and shoot with their cameras instead. They try to scatter nervous suspects, and more importantly, they are building their own database of evidence.
Officers simply frame up whatever they want to shoot, just like they would with a video camera, then the still image is saved on a disk and downloaded onto a computer.
The team had reports of drug dealing Tuesday in Burton Park. His fellow officers tried to out flank anyone that ran, while Emanuel "shot" the scene.
Officers caught two men that ran, and they found a plastic bag they suspect was covered with crack-cocaine residue. One man was charged with possession of narcotics, the other was ticketed for trespassing. One neighbor said she backs the "picture police" because of her 9-year-old son.
"My son told me the things that he saw, so now he is not even allowed to go to the store," says Durham resident Karin Ross. "It's bad that they can't even walk through the path. He said he saw needles and everything. They do it right in front of kids, they don't care."
Police made two minor arrests, but by using the camera lens, they made major progress.
"When we take the picture, we might not know them," Emanuel said, "but somebody we come in contact with, like another officer, another agency, or even within the department, can hopefully identify them and that is good on our behalf, just in case we run into them again when we come back."
As the police gallery grows, there have been some people who say that it is not fair, or even legal, to take pictures of people in public.
However, the police rely on the same North Carolina law that television journalists do, which says that it is legal to photograph anything that a person can see, if the person is on a public street or in a public place.