Atherton police are now offering residents a chance to link their home security cameras to the department, allowing officers to provide a "virtual response" to alarms.

Residents who sign up will be added to the same Internet camera network police use to scan public areas. Dispatchers will have the ability to instantly tap into video footage when a residential alarm is tripped.

Atherton police Detective Sherman Hall, who has overseen development of the system, said Atherton may be the first city in the United States to offer the service to residents. It was created in response to public outcry for stronger security, he said.

The system has been tested at one residence for the past year. With no alarms triggered, police haven't had a chance to use it to monitor an actual break-in, but they are ready to offer the service to all residents, Hall said.

Police will not have constant access to residents' cameras. They will be able to view footage only when an alarm is tripped, which happens a "handful" of times each day, Hall said. The system can retrieve up to one minute of video before the activation of an alarm.

"Privacy is probably the biggest concern here," he said. "People have cameras at their house and they don't want (the Police Department) looking at them all the time. And we have no interest in it, frankly."

The city's Internet camera network is also password-protected, Hall said.

Residents interested in linking their security cameras to Atherton's system must pay a $300 sign-up fee, plus $269 per camera and an annual service fee of $50 per camera. Milestone Systems, a Denmark-based company, manages the town's camera network.

Many Atherton residences already have security cameras, Hall said. The average home value in town was about $4 million last year, according to the San Mateo County Association of Realtors.

The Police Department wants Menlo-Atherton High School, which has a network of security cameras, to sign up for the service, Hall said. The school is burglarized occasionally, he noted, and access to its cameras would help officers in the event of an emergency at the school.

Information technology officials at the school have expressed concern over potential privacy issues with students, Hall said.

Sequoia Union High School District spokeswoman Bettylu Smith said Friday the school hasn't begun formal talks with police about the program.

Residents wishing to sign up for the service can contact Atherton police at 650-688-6500.

Reach Mike Rosenberg at mike.rosenberg@dailynewsgroup.com.