The first thing police do at a crime scene is look for cameras. But it helps if they actually work!
"Video surveillance cameras deter crimes like burglary, armed robbery, employee theft, vandalism, and murder," a Philadelphia homicide detective told me a while back. "But when a criminal is bold enough or dumb enough to commit a crime while a security camera is recording him in the act, the images help us apprehend and convict him."
The detective also told me that when police arrive at a crime scene, the first thing they do is look for video cameras. He also noted that when suspects are confronted with the images of them from the security cameras, they very often plead guilty on the spot.
I recently spoke to Richard Stellacci about cameras. Stellacci, an account manager for Mobile Tec International, a public safety software company in Tampa, Fla., is a retired captain with the Putnum County, New York Sheriff's Department.
In my last post, Stellacci recommended that business owners illuminate their businesses in order to discourage crooks from committing a robbery or an act of vandalism. A well-lit business also helps the passing police officer observe if anyone is committing a crime on the property.
Stellacci also recommends that business owners install a high-quality video surveillance camera system.
"At a lot of the commercial burglaries we saw the same mistakes that frustrated us," Stellacci said. "You see the businesses had a video system, and you say can you pop out that tape? Then the owners say it has been broken for quite a while, or the tape malfunctioned."
Stellacci said he would ask the business owner or manager when they last checked the tape and they would often respond that it has been quite a while.
"You have these crimes where basically you could have caught the guy walking in," Stellacci said. "Now we had no evidence because their camera isn't working or they forgot to turn it on."
Stellacci told me that they solved a good number of gas station robberies because gas stations seem to have the best video systems.
"I've been to bank robberies and I could not make out the face of the robber, that's how bad their camera systems were," Stellacci said. "Then we would go next door to a gas station where we could see a car or a body clearly from the tape."
Stellacci said banks were notorious for having the worst video systems. He recalled that he visited a bank that had been robbed twice.
"'Pop the video,' I told them, and it was the same garbage I saw two years earlier. Yet they chose not to do anything about it. All they were doing is hampering our investigation," Stellacci explained.
I mentioned to Stellacci that I know of some businesses that place their cameras directly on the employees rather than on the customers and potential robbers, because they are more concerned with the employee stealing. When that's the case, I tell the owners that they ought to install another camera.