Close to Home 5/10/21

Security Thoughts by Richard Bleil

There was a shooting literally two blocks from my house. I live on 41st street, it happened on 39th. For those who do not know, there are approximately ten city blocks to one mile, so this was about 2/10th of a mile.

The story, as I understand it, is that around 3 A.M., the two victims were just sitting in their car, innocently minding their own business when a third person drove up and shot them. Have no fear, in reality, getting shot does not necessarily equate to instant death. The two were apparently both hit but only suffered minor injuries and drove themselves to the emergency room. And I’m sure these two people sitting innocently in a car and getting shot by a third was in no way related to a narcotics sale gone bad.

I don’t get the regular news here, although I guess I should. I found out when two police officers (and no, I don’t live in a porn movie so neither was a gorgeous woman) stopped by my house. I don’t have it yet, but I have applied for a concealed handgun permit, so when they said there was a shooting my first thought was that they wanted to look at my handgun, but no, that wasn’t the purpose of their visit. Instead, they noticed that I had a video doorbell on my house that happened to be pointed directly at the street where they expected the suspect’s car to have driven. So, yes, I did invite him into the house just because somebody was cutting a tree nearby and the noise was too much. Unfortunately, I had set the “active zone” just short of the street. My network, as it turns out, warns me every time motion is detected near my house, so I set the active zone to let me sleep. We don’t get much traffic here, which actually makes it worse. If the announcements came routinely, you could get used to them and tune them out, so it’s easier just to not trigger. And my particular system would have been excellent because, as it turns out, it records several seconds before the trigger event. This means that it would have recorded the car as opposed to other systems without this feature in which the car would probably have already been gone by the time it began recording.

But, no, I didn’t have it.

As it turns out, this is becoming a common investigative technique for police. Security cameras abound; most gas stations have them, store parking lots, and now house doorbells. For significantly serious crimes (where the public is endangered such as with a shooting), the police may canvas the neighborhood looking for security cameras. When I worked in the forensic lab, one of my very first cases involved a shooting in a hotel parking lot. The hotel had a security camera that did capture the event, but the problem is that it was so old that its resolution was too poor, and the camera lens was too dirty to be of any value at all. Fortunately, next to the hotel was a car wash with a security camera aimed at the car wash entrance that was just at the correct angle to capture the event on their security system.

Today (as of the writing of this), I took a moment to check out my software a little bit more closely. There are two bits of software that I have to juggle; the first for the doorbells, and the other for my connected home. The home, as it turns out, was the offending culprit. My doorbell was added as a “feature”, and that software could be adjusted to alert me to when somebody presses the ringer, and/or when somebody triggers the motion sensor. So, I could turn off the motion sensor alarm, and reset the active zone to record events in the street. Hopefully it won’t happen again, but if it does maybe I can be of a little more help.

As a side note, there was one additional feature to the visit that I should have thought out more carefully. See, as I invited the officer in, we were standing in my living room when I realized that my “lab” was in plain sight. For those who don’t know, I’ve purchased classic lab equipment for a Renaissance Fair character (Marco Braggadino) that I am developing featuring alchemy. I had purchased basically distillation glassware so I can demonstrate some of the operations developed by alchemists (yes, distillation is one of them). I did feel the need to explain to this gentleman the purpose of this glassware that is usually not in a home and explained that it is not for making meth.

He just smiled. I’m not sure what that means.

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