An Eye On CRIME

Using public surveillance cameras to capture homicides and other crimes.


He refers to another high-profile murder case that surveillance camera footage helped resolve. On December 4, 1999, at 11 p.m., a 59-year-old columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News, W. Russell G. Byers, was murdered in a robbery attempt in the parking lot of a convenience store.

Deegan explains that Byers' wife wanted ice cream, so the columnist pulled his car into a Wawa in the upscale Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia, where Javier Goode waited in the parking lot, looking for a victim to rob.

"Goode had a toy gun and this nasty, Rambo-looking hunting knife," he recalls.

The suspect confronted the couple in the parking lot and ordered Mrs. Byers back into the car so she could drive him away, and at that point her husband rushed Goode.

"Goode stabs Byers and — beginner's luck — he cuts his aorta right open," Deegan says. Byers quickly died.

Deegan recalls he got the call at 1 a.m. He knew this would be a high-profile case and expected much media coverage, as Byers was one of their own.

"We were fortunate enough that we had this guy on tape inside the store," says Det. Tim Bass in the Philadelphia PD homicide division.

Bass and Deegan transported the tape to district attorney's office, where they spent nine hours going over it.

"The tape was excellent," Deegan recalls. "Goode walks in the store, looks up at the camera, glances around and finally gets a soda. We ended up getting that soda from out front and got a fingerprint off it."

"He was not in the store immediately prior to or after the murder, so we had to go back through the tape of the evening," Bass says. "The clerk thought something was up with this guy, so we viewed the tape with her and she said 'That's him.' "

In this case, the tape was very high quality. They had a good image of Goode looking directly at the camera. Deegan notes it is rare for a store to have such high-quality equipment. Bass adds this business maintained a tape library and only recorded over a videotape every 30 days, as opposed to some stores that use the same tape over and over.

"We just kept looking until we got the right picture and then used the media as our ally," Bass recalls.

The homicide detectives released the photos to the news media. At 6 a.m. the following day, the murder of the columnist was the lead story and detectives started receiving calls. The first tip was not the right one, but the very next tip came from the killer's mother-in-law.

She gave detectives his name and address, which was an apartment complex two neighborhoods away from the murder scene.

"He had no criminal record in Philadelphia and only minor offenses in Texas," Bass notes.

When questioned, the suspect told detectives his wife had been on his case to make more money and he felt he could increase his income by robbing people.

"This was his career path," Bass says dryly.

Bass adds this is a prime example of when better-than-average technology really helped out. He notes they would have had a hard time finding Goode without the tape, as he had moved to Philadelphia from Texas a month before and mostly stayed inside his apartment.

"The camera aided us in this investigation," Bass emphasizes. "Goode pled guilty to first-degree murder and there is no doubt in my mind that the camera played a big part."

Deegan says in this case, not only was technology available, but that it was good technology. He believes greater use of surveillance cameras will absolutely aid in homicide investigations — provided the technology is high. In some cases, Deegan says such cameras are the detectives' eyes on the street.

"I hope we're going to get the better-quality cameras, because when we lock someone up for homicide, they are either going to spend the rest of their life in prison or are executed," he says.

Putting an eye on crime

The good news for Deegan and his fellow officers is that Philadelphians voted 4 to 1 last May in a referendum to amend the Philadelphia Home Charter and permit the installation of public surveillance cameras. The city has instituted a pilot program, installing the first crime-surveillance camera at the intersection of 7th Street and Girard Avenue.

Baltimore, Chicago, Wilmington and most recently, New York City, have all installed public surveillance cameras and the cities are claming varying degrees of success.

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