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Story told by one of our webcam software users

Note, this story was featured on Canada's CTV nightly news in October, The video clip from CTV news is available on request.

The following was what was orginally written by our software's user Charlie Worton to his friend who was a science writer.

Back on September 13, I was contacted by City of Edmonton Police and advised that neighbors had seen 3 teenagers leaving my home. As I live alone, this quite disturbed me. I did a quick check and determined that nothing was missing; I then increased my security, and made sure my locks and such were functional.

And, I did something else. I installed a couple of webcams - logitech model 4000s - set up to provide surveillance. One was mounted on the exterior of my home, in the eaves and at such an angle that it covered the back door and surrounding territory; the other was mounted in my study, covering my computer and other equipment.

The software I used was made by digi-watcher (http://www.digi-watcher.com) and is available over the net with a free trial. I found it very flexible, with an astounding array of options. It can be set up in motion sensing mode - with a wide range of sensitivity settings - and when an alarm is triggered it can do a number of things, including live streaming the video over the web, capturing the video to a hard drive, playing an audio file (alarm, barking dog, you name it) dialling a phone number, launching another user specified program... the options seem endless. It also has an option to start capturing video just before motion is detected; this cute trick is accomplished by streaming the video through ram, and constantly refreshing it. When motion is detected, the ram is dumped to the hard drive and serves as the lead in. This ensures you don't miss a thing.

So I got in the habit of setting it up every single day to record any motion in or around my home. On returning home each day, I would find about 20 false alarms recorded to video; my cats entering and exiting through the cat door, the sun emerging from behind a cloud and suddenly changing the lighting... that sort of thing.

But on Tuesday, October 17, I came home at 5 PM to a very disturbing scene. My back door had been kicked in, the doorframe shattered; and a lot of expensive electronics had been stolen. Gone was my Sony home stereo, my 19" viewsonic LCD monitor, my Canon ip4000 color printer, my external USB hard drive, my logitech keyboard... the losses totalled in the thousands. Just as disturbing was the vandalism the thieves committed; my office was trashed.

But the digi-watcher software captured every instant of it, including closeups of the criminals faces as they walked within a couple of feet of the webcam covering the study. I plugged in an alternate monitor, and called the police; they responded within an hour, by which time I had all the video segments pieced together using windows movie maker. I showed the video to the investigating officers, and they were blown away by the quality; even a cheap webcam beats a standard surveillance camera all hollow. One officer commented with an amazed smile, "Well, we shouldn't have any problem with this one!"

The next day, I went further. I took the video to all the major television stations in Edmonton - we have four - and three chose to do stories on it, and interview me. "Local citizen strikes back at crime"; "Burglars videotape themselves committing B&E"... that sort of thing. The stories aired Thursday, September 19 on all local news broadcasts.

As it happened, that evening the father of one of the two burglars had settled down to relax in front of the TV - and was treated to the unhappy experience of watching his 15 year old son commit a B&E, live and in color on prime time news. We can only speculate as to what happened next; but the net result is that I recieved a call from City of Edmonton Police on Monday, advising me that all the stolen items had been delivered to police custody and that the 'alleged' criminals would be turning themselves in that afternoon, accompanied by their parents. And today, Tuesday October 24, I went to the local police station and retrieved all the stuff the kids took. Interestingly, it was returned to me exactly a week after it was stolen, right to the hour.

There are a few lessons to be learned from this experience.

First, deadbolts don't deter a determined thief. A metal doorframe, or metal reinforceing inserts, can prevent the doorframe from being kicked in. I now have that in place.

Second, don't expect your insurance company to protect you; they will not. Imagine my surprise upon learning that my $250 deductable had quietly been raised to $500, and my 'notification' of this change was buried on page 17 of my policy, in 6 point type, printed in light gray ink on white paper. (I should also mention that my vision is significantly impaired.) I also had a 'guaranteed replacement' clause in my policy; that had been quietly deleted, again without notification, and replaced with a 'depreciated value' clause. I'm currently shopping for a more ethical insurance provider.

Third, WEBCAMS WORK. Whether you're experiencing minor pilferage or a full blown burglary, webcams deliver the goods. The resolution is excellent, easily permitting facial recognition; and they're so cheap, no home can afford to be without one. Or several.

Fourth, if you're saving your video to a hard drive, conceal the hard drive. I was lucky because my computer is an older, home made model in a huge server case; it's big, heavy and ugly, and the thieves didn't want to make the effort to lug it out of my home. Had they done so, I would have lost my record of the theft. I say again, I was lucky. Ideally, you want to stream the video to a remote location, and save it there; failing that, put a second computer - or an external USB drive - in a locked drawer or secured location within your home.
Note from Digi-Watcher: In fact, Watcher now has the ability to email/ftp the logged video clips to remote site upon motion detection.

Bottom line? The criminals got caught; they won't be committing any more B&E's any time soon, so the neighborhood is a bit safer. As a result of the publicity, more people will be using webcams for video surveillance, and that makes criminals lives just a bit more difficult. And I got everything they stole back, in amazingly good shape; there are a few scratches, but nothing major.

All in all, it was an interesting experience.

Regards, Charlie

Digi-Watcher.com. - A total solution for digital home security


Last updated 01-Feb-2007.



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