EYE ON CRIME: Johnson City detectives give an insider’s look at crime-solving tools

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Four million dollars worth of cameras are lining Johnson City streets and most people don’t even realize how they are being used. The cameras,  more than 40 of them,  keep an eye on how traffic is moving.

A $4 million investment, the cameras, more than 40 of them, keep an eye on how traffic is moving.

However, News Channel 11 found out police tested the cameras as a crime-fighting tool, helping detectives catch criminals before the trail goes cold.

Normally, Johnson City is a pretty quiet town but like any city, there is always crime.

Who can forget when the old General Mills building caught fire last year, and a 17-year-old was later arrested for arson and trespassing.

Three months later, police said Jeremy Stout was arrested for allegedly stealing a mini excavator from the property owner.

Grant Summers, of Summers-Grant construction

“When you have something stolen like that, you don’t expect it to get back,” Grant Summers said.

Summers was able to get his equipment back thanks to a nearby traffic camera.

These traffic cameras have been used for more than just monitoring traffic, according to JCPD.

Recently, the cameras captured a theft-in-progress at the old General Mills building.

Johnson City traffic cameras captured images of excavating equipment stolen from the General Mills construction site.

“They were able to kind of track him from a couple of locations and pin down. He didn’t pass that camera over here, so he must have gone this way. Let’s go back a couple of more hours,” Summers said.

With the video from that traffic camera and help from authorities in Avery County, N.C., Stout was picked up in that area.

Police say he waived his extradition rights and was taken back to Washington County, Tennessee and charged with theft of property over $10,000 and vandalism over $1,000.

Jeremy Stout

That was the first time Johnson City police used traffic cameras to solve a crime.

They were testing out a system, that if bought could help solve other cases down the road.

For the time being the cameras are mainly used to keep an eye on area roads.

“We embarked on this project a few years ago so that we could improve traffic flow,” City Traffic Engineering Manager Anthony Todd said.

Todd said there are about 40 cameras strategically placed throughout the city, however, only 16 can be viewed at one time.

The project cost taxpayers about $4 million and costs anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000 a year to maintain.

City Traffic Engineering Manager Anthony Todd

Todd said so far its proven to be money well spent.

“As you drive down the road you get a perspective, but you only get the perspective from that particular vehicle that you are in or if you are sitting at an intersection watching it,” Todd said. “You can’t see what’s going on everywhere else.”

While the traffic cameras turned crime-fighting tool is still a project in the works, police still have other ways they keep a close eye on crime.

Photos can also be taken from a helicopter flying above Johnson City, and for Det. Josh Morgan and Det. Joe Jaynes those pictures are a crack in auto theft cases they’ve been working on for months.

The helicopter gives officers a unique vantage point, spotting several missing cars in wooded areas of Johnson City.

News Channel 11’s Curtis McCloud went along with the detectives out to that spot to investigate.

After a short trip into a ravine, they found one of the vehicles police saw while flying above in the helicopter.

Officers then get the VIN number and find out it was reported stolen and then found. It is still a mystery how it ended up in the woods.

Detectives used the JCPD military-style Hummer to check out another potentially stolen car. Officers log the VIN number and reach out to the owners.

Police said having public’s assistance in solving crimes is one of the biggest tools for detectives.

“Most people would think it’s forensics or fingerprints,” Sgt. Mike Adams said. “By and large, most of our crimes are solved with the public’s help.”

And that’s typically the case with major crimes like assault and murder cases.

“A lot of times people think their information is not going to be beneficial or helpful to us and it is given the fact that we know more information than the person calling may know,” Adams said.

Summers is grateful Johnson City made an arrest in his theft case.

The suspect is now making his way through the court system thanks to one of many resources that help police keep an eye on crime.

The traffic camera system is not being used to monitor crime at the current time. The JCPD is still trying to find money to make that happen.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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