Thoughts with Richard Bleil
Woke up today, as of the writing of this post, to a doorbell. I didn’t rush to answer it. The only person who comes to my house is George to ask if he can resume cutting my grass, and he has been showing up with less frequency. Well, to put this delicately, I sleep COMPLETELY FRICKIN’ NAKED. But it was a good time to get up anyway, so I put on some pants and got ready for the day. Just to be sure, I checked my doorbell video, and it wasn’t George. It was, in fact, a uniformed police officer. Yup, a cop. And yes, I’m in jail.
No, I’m not in jail. That was a joke. But it was a policeman, after all. He wanted me to check the video of my doorbell to see if it captured a white SUV on the street in front of my house. Sure enough, it had. The vehicle was driving on my street, and turned down a side street, slowing down and fully in control when, suddenly, halfway up the block of the side street, it suddenly swerved, jumped a curb and hit a woman. Yes, vehicular assault. At least. There is sound on the video, and it sounds like the two knew each other based on the screaming (yes, the woman was fine enough to get up and yell). And, yes, I’m carrying in my own house now just in case the driver realizes where the video came from and decides to try to extract their revenge.
This got me to thinking about video. Every once in a while, there’s a movie about some high-end assassin going after some nobody because they were unfortunate enough to capture the only image of them that exists since they were three. That’s just not the way it is anymore. In fact, it’s safe to assume that, if you are out in public, you’re pretty much having your image captured, or on video, every couple of minutes.
Part of detective work these days is canvassing the street to look for security cameras, in homes, businesses, even on traffic lights. And technology being what it is, the images get clearer all the time. A forensic video expert would have no problems zooming in on this vehicle and getting the license plate, and probably a decent image of the driver, and the audio picked up the conversation from half a block away. It’s hard to hear on my equipment, but they can easily get it.
One of the biggest mistakes made with video cameras, though, is not the equipment so much as the placement. It’s not uncommon to walk into a store and see security cameras placed high at awkward positions to keep them out of reach, but also at an angle where it is difficult (if not impossible) to actually see the face of the person or object they are trying to capture. This isn’t so true with video doorbells, as those are naturally placed where it’s easy to press the button, making them about the right height for faces, and straight on as well. My video doorbell even has a feature where if there is a triggering event, it will show five second prior to the event as well. Basically, it’s always on, just on a five second delay before storing it to the disk.
If the video does not capture a good image of the individual, it’s still not the end of the story. As it turns out, often people can be identified by the way they walk, their “gait”. Sometimes police will post videos simply hoping somebody sees the way the individual walks, and somebody will say, “Hey, I know that person!”
One of the silliest cases I’ve seen during my time as the director of the forensic lab where I worked was an underaged kid who attached a camera like a “Go Pro” to his helmet and took his “crotch rocket” motorcycle out for a joy ride. He was speeding, running stop signs and red lights, and sure enough picked up a cop who tried to pull him over. Instead of stopping, he sped up and drove even more recklessly. The police, as they will do, called off the chase because he was in a populated area, and they didn’t want anybody to get hurt for what they anticipated to be merely driving violations. This kid then posted the video, believe it or not, to his social media page, where the cops could see every violation, and even the speeds as he looked down that were as high as 120 miles per hour. They identified him from his account and showed up at his house. But they didn’t arrest him. Instead they simply left the video in the hands of the kid’s mother and went on their way.