A city-owned sidewalk camera has overlooked the rainbow crosswalk at Duval and Petronia streets since 2019 to help police prevent and to solve crimes. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

One of the city’s sidewalk cameras, mounted above an intersection, watched — and recorded — as Memphis police officers brutally beat Tyre Nichols, who died from his injuries three days later. 

The footage shocked the nation and prompted second-degree murder charges against five Memphis police officers, additional firings and a continuing investigation.

While the suspected Memphis police officers and other responders may now resent the cameras’ vigilance, other law enforcement professionals have long recognized the investigative value.

Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg is in the process of upgrading the seven sidewalk cameras that Key West installed in 2019 under then-chief Donie Lee. 

Since then, cameras have overlooked the Duval Street intersections of Front Street, Caroline, Eaton and Truman Avenue. Cameras are also mounted in the 400, 700, 800 and 900 blocks of Duval. 

“Right now, all the footage goes to a central location, and we can get it when we need it,” Brandenburg said. “But my plan is to get all the city-owned cameras streaming live into our dispatchers, so they can access all of them in real time, view multiple angles and rewind them a few minutes, hours or days.

“So often, the crux of an incident happens before police arrive,” the chief said. “It will be much more efficient when my dispatchers can rewind that footage immediately and see what really happened. There’s always three sides to every story when the police get involved: my side, your side and the truth.”

The cameras tell the truth, whether they’re owned by the city or by a local bar or business, many of which have installed their own live-streaming webcams inside and just outside their business so online visitors can see what’s happening.

A commercial webcam at the Southernmost Point buoy, usually accessed by people who wish they were in Key West, captured a suspected sexual assault in 2021 and later led to the arrest of two suspected arsonists who set the landmark on fire in January 2022. 

“I have some great dispatchers who are skilled investigators in their own right,” Brandenburg said. “When they get calls about an incident downtown, they’ll immediately consult the webcams in front of Sloppy Joe’s, or Irish Kevin’s or the Southernmost Point and relay what they see to officers on the scene.”

In answer to the usual complaints about “big brother watching,” City Manager Patti McLauchlin emphasized in 2019 that city and police officials aren’t interested in invading anyone’s privacy, but in preventing and solving crimes and protecting the public.

(The KWPD also just completed a huge upgrade to officers’ body-worn and in-car cameras. More on that in next week’s Keys Weekly.)

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.