SkyCops are eyeing Memphis and Shelby County to help reduce crime

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MEMPHIS, Tenn -- Across Memphis and Shelby County, it seems there's an electronic eye that never blinks watching street corners, parks and businesses.

In some cases, criminals are getting plenty of face time as they're caught on camera and caught in the act of assaults, car and home break-ins, and robberies.

Deputy Chief Jim Harvey heads up the Memphis Police Department's Real Time Crime Center.

"Some of the cameras that you see are coming from SkyCop trailers," Harvey said.

At the MPD's Real Time Crime Center, analysts monitor SkyCop cameras. The cameras that can pan 360 degrees and zoom in close enough to see almost any movement in public.

Police say the cameras are reducing crime and point to areas of town such as Poplar Plaza.

"Everything dried up. So, even the shoplifting went away, the car break-ins went to zero. It's a drastic change," Harvey said.

Some say the SkyCops are needed, especially as the city's crime rate soars and the number of cops on the street drops.

"But even with buying those cameras and putting them on every corner wouldn't solve our shortage of police officers," Harvey said.

The city operates about 600 surveillance cameras. But do they work or do they just make you feel safer?

Memphis police couldn't provide us with much solid data.  After pushing MPD for two weeks, the department told WREG citywide data isn't available on the cameras because many are mounted on trailers and constantly roll from one community to another

After pushing MPD for two weeks, the department told WREG citywide data isn't available on the cameras because many are mounted on trailers and constantly roll from one community to another

Mike Rallings is the MPD's Interim Police Director.

"We know that cameras work," Rallings said.

Police did give us stats from one high crime area near the Hillview Apartments on Alcy.

They looked at all types of crimes from 45 days before and 45 days after seven cameras were installed.

MPD said crime dropped by 90 percent.

"But again we will continue to monitor that and see how successful, but across the city where we've place SkyCops, it reduces crime," Rallings said.

SkyCops are used by the Shelby County sheriff's office at the Agricenter International.

They keep a watchful eye on nine areas of the Agricenter and its more than 1.3 million visitors each year.

John Charles Wilson is Agricenter International president.

"It's Big Brother and we realize it," Wilson said.

WREG looked at the Sheriff's Office's SkyCop data at the Agricenter.

It shows aggravated assaults, purse snatching and car break-ins dramatically dropped.

"It's good. We can zoom in on a license plate. We've done it. We have used for prosecution before and it's a different level," Wilson said.

The SkyCops have caught the attention of several business leaders.

Some are part of the Memphis Shelby County Law Enforcement Foundation.

It was created to help fund essential equipment and training not covered in law enforcement operating budgets.

The foundation paid for almost 200 cameras.

Jim Tusant is chairman of the Memphis-Shelby County Law Enforcement Foundation.

"The more cameras that we can put out there I think the safer we can make the city and that's certainly the view of the board and their goal is do as many as we can place out there," Tusant said.

Several affluent neighborhoods such as Belle Meade in East Memphis even raised about $132,000 to help buy their own SkyCops.

Their cameras and license plate readers send data directly to the Real Time Crime Center.

Matthew Murphy lives in the Belle Meade area.

"They keep people out. as far I'm concerned, I don't think there have been any break-ins since I've heard about," Murphy said.

The cameras don't come cheap. some range from $6,000 to $8,000 each, if not more.

To make certain all communities have access to the cameras, the city is looking to fund a city-wide roll out of 70 cameras in crime hot spots and the city is offering $2,500 neighborhood grants.

Worth Morgan is a Memphis City Councilman

"Those will be divided by different council districts and based on need and more or not we see the communities that need them the most are often those who can't afford them."

MPD also says it's not trying to invade anyone's privacy and they don't use their cameras to track people. They says they use their video in a more reactive manner, if a crime has happened.

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