Kansas City criminologist works to bring local surveillance up to UK standards

June 03, 2019 - 6:49 am

Kansas City, MO - A chief criminologist at the Kansas City Crime Lab believes cameras provide compelling clues that can be as difficult to refute as DNA evidence.

Mark Southwell is in charge of the lab's digital evidence section. He was raised in the United Kingdom, where he spent 26 years as a photographer in the Royal Navy. He also worked for the British transport police.

Surveillance technology in the UK is 15 years ahead of the United States, and Southwell is working to bring Kansas City crimefighting into the digital age. He says high quality security cameras have really come down in price.  

"You can get a good security system with eight cameras for 300 bucks, so more and more people are getting them, consequently, more and more recoveries are being done," Southwell said.

The crime lab has solved a large number of crimes with evidence gathered by cameras at businesses and homes. Modern doorbells come with surveillance cameras. All these cameras can pick up valuable images of people and vehicles.

"If we have a seized vehicle, we can compare that vehicle and the photos from that vehicle," Southwell said. "So if a vehicle has damage to certain parts of the body work, we can call that a unique identifier."

The idea also works with clothing. A stain or a tear can help identify a suspect.

Southwell recommends homeowners read instruction manuals carefully when installing security systems. Some people put up cameras and learn later that they are not recording. 

People with surveillance systems can go online to the KCPD's website to register your doorbell cameras. That will give police easy access to your camera storage in case it is needed for a crime in your neighborhood. Other cities in the area offer the same type of registry.

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