New technology adopted by Owensboro-Daviess County 911 dispatch allows people to send video and photos from smartphones directly to dispatchers.
City-county 911 Director Paul Nave said the technology could help emergency crews prepare their responses to incidents, and the system can also be used to solve crimes.
Last year, $10,000 was allocated in the dispatch center budget to enter into a two-year contract for the “911eye” system. The dispatch center began using the system late last year.
Nave said he wants people to be comfortable using the technology, which doesn’t take any personal information, such as photos, videos or contacts, from a phone utilizing the service.
“We are going to be using this more and more,” Nave said. “Don’t be startled when we send you a link” to connect to the service, he said.
The “911eye” system works when a dispatcher sends a link to a person calling 911. When the person opens the link on their smartphone, the system activates the phone’s camera and can take video or photos, depending on what the caller prefers.
Nave said the video or photos taken through the link is sent to the dispatch center where it can be stored as evidence or used to help responders.
The video and photos are not retained on the phone, Nave said. The connection with dispatch is broken when the caller disconnects.
When asked if the system created privacy issues, Nave said the system is disconnected when it is no longer providing useful information about the incident that initiated the call to 911. The system is “to be used when it’s going to make a difference to the officer,” he said.
When asked about other privacy concerns, Daviess County Attorney Claud Porter said privacy is not an issue when a person is outdoors and clearly visible, even in their own yard.
“If I’m in my backyard and you’re in your backyard ... If I can see you, I can take a picture,” Porter said. “There’s no prohibition against that.”
There’s also no expectation of privacy while driving, Porter said.
“There’s not a privacy issue (with) taking a picture of your driving behavior” or getting a picture of a license plate number, he said.
A person can’t shoot video into another person’s home, and can’t go onto another person’s property to take video or photos.
If a video caught a background image of a person in a home who appeared to be using drugs, that video could spur police to put surveillance on the home to look for more signs of drug activity, Porter said. But the video alone would not be enough to make an arrest, Porter said.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bruce Kuegel said, hypothetically, if a person not part of the original incident were seen in the background smoking marijuana, that individual would have to first be met by an officer who would have to find the person with an illegal substance in order to charge them with a crime. Otherwise, the person would be presumed to be smoking a legal substance, he said.
But, if the video captures a violent act in the background, the video could be used as evidence, Kuegel said.
A video capturing something such as a muzzle flash from a home would prompt an investigation by police just as a call would from a person reporting a suspected muzzle flash, Porter said.
Officer Andrew Boggess, public information officer for the Owensboro Police Department, said, “It’s not really much different than someone taking a photo and showing us the photo.”
Nave said people shouldn’t be leery of using the system.
“We’ve had some instances where people are reluctant because they don’t understand the application,” he said. But people have agreed to use the system once dispatchers explained how it works.
The system has caught at least one incident in real time.
“We had a suspect that was in people’s yards, going through mailboxes” that was captured on video using 911eye, Nave said. Also, 911eye was used in an incident where horses had escaped a barn to identify the likely owner.
“I have talked with the fire department” about streaming the video to fire units going to a scene, Nave said. “We can send a live picture to the incident commander ... (and) he can make a decision on if they need additional resources before they arrive.”
The technology “is just the cusp of things that are coming in the future” with Next Generation 911, Nave said. For example, devices such as pacemakers will someday use NG911 to automatically contact dispatch if the device is malfunctioning, he said.
“I’m excited about things like that, that will be able to save lives without human intervention.”
Boggess said the system wouldn’t be used all the time.
“I don’t think we are looking to utilize it on every 911 call,” Boggess said. The system would be used if the incident “is something a little higher level (where) we might want to see video.
“There’s a potential for it to save us time” when responding to calls, Boggess said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse