NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - You hear it time and again. The importance of surveillance cameras to help police solve crimes. But some French Quarter residents say the NOPD is holding back some of the videos that they think are crucial to capturing suspects.
June 11. Two people hold up a man on Chartres Street in front of St. Mary's Church. The video has never before been seen on TV.
Homeowner David Landers captured the incident on his surveillance cameras.
"The couple got to Gov. Nicholls and they realized he was coming at them, spun around, and he shot, and you could see the muzzle fire and the guy kinda did like this and he missed him," Lander said.
Landers gave us the robbery footage, and said he also gave it to the NOPD three days after the crime. But the department never released it publicly. Instead, police sent the media two still images of the suspects.
The day before that crime, two tourists were robbed on Dumaine Street. The NOPD released a picture of the suspect. But we obtained video of the incident in which you can hear the suspect demand the victims' property.
The video came from a homeowner's surveillance cameras. French Quarter resident Larry Lane enhanced it. He's one of the co-founders of SafeCam NOLA, and he routinely helps the police department find and improve the quality of surveillance video.
Lane says two days after the robbery, he provided this footage to the NOPD and at the same time, sent it to us here at FOX 8. We immediately ran the video on TV. But the NOPD never released it.
"People are going to see his mannerisms, his clothing, his look, and...the more information you can give people, the quicker the NOPD is going to close in," Landers said.
The NOPD caught the suspect days later by using the surveillance footage to track down the getaway car. Lane contends police could've gotten more help had they released the video to all media outlets right after they received it to increase their exposure.
"There is a need for it. The problem is, if the public doesn't see it, you can't get the public's help to catch the bad guys," Lane said.
Next example, Nov 17, 2017. Two men attack a 72-year-old man on Gov. Nicholls, hitting him so hard in the head that Lane said he sustained permanent brain damage.
The NOPD released a portion of surveillance footage after the crime, showing the men crossing a street.
But in the portion of the video that we obtained, not released to the public, you can see one of the suspects has a strange walk.
We asked NOPD 8th District Commander Nicholas Gernon about the video and if seeing a person's walk or mannerisms can help identify a suspect.
"Yes, you're right," Gernon said. "We're always looking internally to see how we can get better. I'm familiar with that case. At the point they attack him, they're far away. You can't see their faces. But you're right, if there was some special gait or something in the way that person moved, maybe that detective missed it. Maybe we all missed it."
Gernon continued, "We look at what images are available, and then we figure out which of those images we think will give the public the best opportunity to identify the suspects, and we release them based on that."
Explaining why the department doesn't always release video in its possession, Gernon said police don't want to re-victimize victims by showing crimes on TV.
But there are cases where the department has released very graphic video. The shooting of Tulane medical student Peter Gold in 2015 is one example, as is the brutal beating video of Boston tourists last year. Gernon admits there's no written policy for when the department releases video versus a suspect's picture.
"We often have internal conversations about what would be our best opportunity to identify individuals, and that's how we make our decisions," Gernon said.
"The feedback I get is that there's a concern about the image of New Orleans, especially the French Quarter, which bothers me greatly because cops are not here to protect our image, they're here to protect us," Lane said.
Like Lane, Bob Simms said he too has heard from officers on the street about this concern from top brass. Simms helped Lane start SafeCam NOLA.
"I think the policy problem is to release the video, the districts have to get approval from headquarters, and that takes a long time. And then it's often no," Simms said.
Gernon tells us the only approval required is by the public information office, where a supervisor takes a look at the video before deciding whether to release it.
Now back to that robbery on Chartres.
"The crime happened, the detective retrieved the video, had it in his hands on a Thursday, and 96 hours later, NOPD didn't post the video. They posted one still photograph. In that intervening time, that guy could've gone back out and held up five more people," Lane said.
Before releasing the video to us, David Landers said he actually checked with police.
He recalls, "They said the more we get the video out, the better it is. So I said, 'If I release this video to Meg, is that a problem?' And he said no."
We asked Landers if it was the detective working the case who made those comments.
"Yes, right. He said the more people that see it, the better we have a chance of arresting the perpetrator. He said that," Lander said.
Larry Lane and Bob Simms contend the public has a right to see every video the NOPD obtains of crimes to help get more bad guys off the streets.
Larry Lane says in 2014, he spent hours with the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation writing guidelines for when police should release video versus still photographs. He tells us those guidelines were never adopted.