In the heat of a foot pursuit last fall, La Vista police officers briefly lost sight of the man they were chasing. Fortunately, a resident’s home security camera was rolling.

During the chase, a 25-year-old man produced a handgun, which prompted an officer to fire multiple rounds at him. But those bullets missed their target, and the man took off, eventually forcing his way into a home, where he was subdued by the homeowner.

Officers later learned, after viewing private security footage, that the man had attempted to break into a different residence while on the run. He eventually was convicted of two counts of making terroristic threats and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

“We would never have known that if it wasn’t for one of the neighbors’ security cameras,” La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten said in a recent interview.

The city is now one of at least two departments in the Omaha area using home security cameras to help investigate crimes.

Under La Vista’s Security Camera Registration Program, called SCRAM, residents and businesses with doorbell security cameras and other home surveillance systems can register their cameras with the department.

If a crime occurs in the vicinity of a registered camera, investigators can then easily contact the owner to request a copy of the tape.

“We’re trying to take ‘neighborhood watch’ and turn it into ‘neighborhood eyes,’ ” Lausten said of the program, which launched at the end of August.

Those interested in registering their cameras can do so on the La Vista Police Department’s website. Patrol officers have been handing out paper forms during the course of their shifts.

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In Omaha, video of suspicious activity can be shared with neighbors — and Omaha police — through a free smartphone app that police say already has helped solve crimes.

Ring, the video doorbell company, introduced its Neighbors app last year. The Omaha Police Department signed on to the program in July, said Omaha Police Capt. Steve Cerveny, who is in the department’s criminal investigations bureau.

La Vista, too, has a partnership with Ring that began in June. The Bellevue Police Department is in discussions to join the program, a department spokesman said.

App users don’t have to have Ring doorbells to take part in what’s essentially an online community bulletin board. People can post statements, photos and videos of suspected criminal activity in their neighborhood.

Police can monitor the posts, just as other users can, but officers wouldn’t investigate a property crime unless someone files a police report, Cerveny said.

If police are investigating a crime that occurred in a neighborhood, he said, they can reach out to residents who are on the app through Ring. “We can request any video that a system may have captured or a resident may have,” Cerveny said.

Whether people post the video or provide it to police is “totally voluntary,” Cerveny said. The app “doesn’t give us any ability to take over any video surveillance system.”

The app can give police an idea of areas with high concentrations of video surveillance systems.

“If a crime was committed,” Cerveny said, “we go canvass an area, look for witnesses to speak with, any other potential evidence. One of the things we look for is video cameras.”

The app, he said, “allows us to communicate with neighbors and communities within each precinct.”

The best thing about the videos posted to the app, Cerveny said, “is it puts that specific suspect at a specific place and at a certain time. It potentially allows a lot of individuals the ability to identify that suspect.”

App users set up boundaries around their home using an in-app map. If someone within the boundaries posts an alert, the app user will be notified on his or her phone or tablet.

Recent postings in an area from 42nd Street west to Interstate 680 and State Street south to Dodge Street showed videos of a car break-in, a photo of a truck that had been stolen, a video of “roaming dogs” and a report of a gunshot.

Omaha police detectives are starting to use the app more and more, Cerveny said. “We have received some responses to our requests for video (of crimes), but I think that will increase as time goes on.”

The app already has been very helpful in theft cases, Cerveny said, including thefts of mail, packages and vehicles.

“It’s a nice resource to have. It helps,” he said. “The most valuable part of it so far is the efficiency. It helps with the efficiency of an investigation” because officers don’t have to canvass such large areas.

Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

Bob Glissmann helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow him on Twitter @BobGlissmann. Phone: 402-444-1109.

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