Surveillance Video Pulls Together the Pieces following Murder

Within two hours of the shooting deaths of a Hastings couple Saturday, police officers were reviewing surveillance video of the suspects coming and going at a local grocery store.

The video didn't crack the case, but it helped investigators put the pieces together.

"It was confirmation for us," Hastings Police Chief Mike McMenomy said Wednesday. "It provides pictures for the stories the suspects told us. It will be graphic in court if we show video of them arriving and driving away."

As security cameras become ubiquitous, law enforcement officials are increasingly turning to video footage to assist them in cobbling together parts of crimes or in solving whodunits. It has become second nature for police to look for cameras when they arrive at crime scenes.

Cameras were once mostly used in banks and by stores to catch shoplifters.

"Now it's expanded to anything, to any kind of crime that is significant enough to require investigation by police officers," said Robert McCrie, security-management professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "Even in a routine arrest, a police officer will access videotape from local malls, businesses and private facilities."

More and more businesses are using surveillance cameras and, when a crime has been committed, they often are willing to share the video with police, said St. Paul police spokesman Pete Crum. Businesses sometimes call police to say they have surveillance video that might help them, Crum said.

That was the case shortly after St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald Vick was shot to death in May, near 3M in St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff neighborhood. 3M security workers called police and said they had surveillance video of the confrontation that preceded the shooting.

With images of the suspects on video, police issued descriptions of two men and what they were wearing. Two men matching the descriptions were arrested in the hours that followed one has been charged with murder and the other is a material witness in the case.

In the Saturday slayings of Peter and Patricia Niedere, both 52, at their Hastings business, a red Pontiac Grand Am was seen leaving the crime scene. It was soon found abandoned in the city's Cub Foods parking lot.

Surveillance video from the store showed a white pickup truck arrive in the parking lot and a teen, later identified as Clayton Keister, get in the Grand Am. The car drove away.

Keister and Matthew Niedere, both 17, then allegedly drove to the Niederes' business and killed Matthew Niedere's parents, according to complaints charging the two with murder.

The video showed the Grand Am return to the Cub parking lot, Keister leave the car and get back in his truck. Both teens were arrested Saturday night.

Matthew Niedere was arrested in a Cub Foods parking lot in Blaine, and investigators plan to review surveillance video from that store also, McMenomy said.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension helps law enforcement agencies improve surveillance video footage, said Tim O'Malley, the agency's assistant superintendent. The BCA can darken, lighten or enlarge an image, but the possible improvements depend on the original quality of the footage, O'Malley said.

The BCA also can enhance images along the edge of a tape and break down images frame by frame, O'Malley said.

In the past year or two, the link between law enforcement and security cameras has become even more prevalent, said Minneapolis police Capt. Rich Stanek. Several homicides in the city were solved in the last year with the help of security cameras, he said. And about 30 cameras were installed in downtown Minneapolis in the past year.

(c) 2005 Associated Press