ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – If you hop on a public CDTA bus, there’s a good chance that from the time you climb on and until you get off, your every move – and even some of what you say – is being recorded.
If you’re committing a crime this is bad news for you, but if you’re the police, it can help solve some of the toughest cases.
They are the moments that make up a mundane morning commute. The stream of videos is most like watching paint dry, but for one man, it has been his career.
“This is the curb side camera,” Rick Vines, Director of Risk Management, demonstrated.
Vines has made sure that over 200 CDTA buses, and soon to be many more, are outfitted with many cameras.
“We have an audio feature that’s capturing the audio in this area of the bus as well any conversation,” he said. “We have this camera that’s shooting down the rear of the bus.”
Cameras mounted on the exterior provide a 360 degree view of bus stops, city sidewalks, store fronts and roadways. They are time and GPS stamped.
“Initially, it was first and foremost to protect our employees because we know they are vulnerable; they are out in the public,” Vines explained.
It didn’t take long for law enforcement to also realize that a roving security camera on wheels could be just as useful to them.
“We just started getting phone calls,” Vines said.
“It’s such good quality that you can actually make identifications off of it and that’s what we are looking to do,” Colonie Police Lt. Bob Winn said.
Case in point, the attack on Nancy Crowe.
“I heard a footstep that should not have been there,” Crowe told NEWS10 ABC.
NEWS10 reporter Anya Tucker spoke with Crowe in 2014 after she survived a brutal attack at the hands of a sex offender, who dragged her into some woods, stabbed her repeatedly and left her for dead.
“I had one advantage and one advantage only and that was the law,” Crowe said at the time.
“Nancy Crowe was essentially for the first couple of days a ‘Who-dunnit’,” Lt. Winn said.
Colonie Police did know that Crowe had just gotten off a CDTA bus prior to the attack. They requested the video, and lo and behold, it showed her attacker following her off the bus.
CDTA street cameras also captured him stalking her down Route 155 near where she was grabbed. He is now in prison.
The video was key in not only solving that case but making sure that the man could not hurt another person.
CDTA video also assisted investigators in solving the murder of local barber Jackie Porreca by placing the suspect’s car in the area of the crime.
There are also many less serious examples, too.
Bethlehem Police say the images helped them identify a burglary suspect as he raced to catch a bus. Looking closely at the images, you can see what police say were the stolen items tucked inside his coat.
Then there’s the now infamous video of a 2016 fight on a CDTA bus that prosecutors say they’ll use in court against two former University at Albany students. They are accused of fabricating a story of being the victims of a racial attack.
They pleaded not guilty, and the trial is scheduled for the spring.
The videos do raise an interesting question, though, about Big Brother watching all of us.
“I would not be concerned about it. We’re not looking to watch anyone. We don’t actively monitor the system,” Carm Basile, CEO/CDTA Director, said. “What we do is we use it when we have cause. Seventeen million people a year get on and off our buses. I think we have better things to do with our time. What we want to do though is ensure they are safe. Ensure that people around them are safe. Ensure that our employees are safe, and ensure that you and I are safe.”
To be clear, CDTA does not work for the police. They say they only pull images as a courtesy to investigators.
Vines says the videos have had other initially unexpected benefits such as a training tool for drivers to avoid certain types of accidents.