Online social networking sites can connect old friends and stir memories, good and bad, and have been the subject of recent books and movies. Sites like Facebook and MySpace have become a tool for politicians and celebrities to reach out to voters and fans.
Paul Conrady has a slightly different vision: using the connective power of the Internet to fight crime with a website he's dubbed "CrimeSeen."
"In a nutshell, it's a crime-solving social network," said Conrady, who owns Edmond Security Inc. "It works like all your other social networks. I saw that there was a need to fill, and thought, 'Why aren't we using the power of the Internet to solve crime?'"
The linchpin of CrimeSeen is the collecting and sharing of videos from members' home security systems, and sharing those videos with other CrimeSeen members, law enforcement officials and the public in order to help identify criminal suspects.
Law enforcement officials in Edmond and Oklahoma City say they are glad to get the help.
"Any time that we can have extra eyes out on the streets for us in any form, it's very helpful, and in this case, this is another tool for us to use," said Glynda Chu, public information officer for the Edmond Police Department.
"We live in a digital age, where you're seeing surveillance cameras everywhere and it's something that we didn't have as a tool years ago," said Sgt. Gary Knight, public information officer for the Oklahoma City Police Department. "The more eyes we can get on a crime video trying to identify a suspect and solve a crime, the more likely we are being able to solve it."
Conrady acknowledged that while some crimes have been solved through videos placed on YouTube, the vastness of the collection makes it cumbersome to monitor crime on a local level.
"YouTube is huge " there's no way to filter that to your neighborhood," he said. "That's the one step I took that's different. When you join CrimeSeen.com, you specify your location and you can specify the miles around your location that you care to know when crime happens."
Conrady said he's mindful of the limited resources of most law enforcement agencies, but three decades in the home security system business has made him keenly aware of what usually happens to videos given to law enforcement officials.
"I've probably given 50 videos to police departments of my customers' crimes," he said. "Ten of them have made the TV. Two of them got solved because they were on TV. But 40 of them went straight into a file and no one ever saw them. There was never an option for showing the videos to the public."
Much like Facebook and MySpace, Conrady envisions CrimeSeen growing to become a national crime-fighting tool, fueled by public interest and participation, and financed with advertising by local security system companies in other cities and towns. As an example, he cited the advertising arrangement between Edmond Security Inc. and Comtec, another Oklahoma City-area security system company.
"Comtec bought all the ZIP codes on the south side of Oklahoma City, and Edmond Security bought them on the north side of the city," Conrady said. "Edmond Security is currently displaying (on CrimeSeen.com) in the rest of Oklahoma because they're licensed in the state, and they have the ability to go statewide.
"There's no charge for anyone to be on the site, what it's going to do is drive security sales for the companies that sponsor this site," he said. "The advertising is ZIP code driven. If you're in Tucson, you're only going to see ads from an alarm company in Tucson."
Conrady's son, Jarod Conrady, vice president at Edmond Security Inc., said his company can help customers through the power of the CrimeSeen network.
"This added feature really helps to set us apart from our competitors," Jarod Conrady said.
Part of the CrimeSeen network that involves neighbors helping neighbors is what the senior Conrady has named "One for the Road."
"The concept is that when you buy a video system, we educate people to turn one of their cameras to the road " to the intersection in front of their house, a stop sign, or if you're in a business district, to turn a camera toward the street," he said. "(Then) you go to One for the Road on our site, and you can see which camera is closest to that crime and notify (that camera owner), they can send a video clip back to you. And now you've got a clue."
Conrady said the creation of CrimeSeen and its status as a free site sprang from his desire to give something back to crime victims. Smartphones can provide a live security view for customers.
"An alarm company makes all their profit from someone's misfortune, from someone being a victim," he said. "Crime does pay, unfortunately, and this is our way of giving back to the community." "C.G. Niebank
photo Jarod Conrady, vice president of Edmond Security Inc., holds a security camera. photo/Shannon Cornman