Security installation professionals are routinely asked about the difference in budget grade CCTV systems one can get from an online retailer vs. commercial grade CCTV systems that are installed by licensed and expertly trained technicians. To answer these questions we can use a theft that happened to a neighbor of one of our employees on New Year’s Day.

A year ago Mr. Neighbor went online and purchased a 4 camera system that would record up to 2 weeks of video. It had a day / night feature that would detect and record motion 24 hours a day. Mr. Neighbor installed the system himself, mounting the cameras just outside the windows on the second level of his house. He aimed the system the best he could and didn’t pay too much attention to the wiring.

On New Year’s Day Mr. Neighbor woke to the realization that his son’s car had been stolen. He quickly went to his video recorder and discovered that a male subject was in his driveway at 7am, entered his car first and stole a credit card, then entered his wife’s car and stole some loose money, then entered his son’s car, found the keys in the ignition and silently rolled it out of the driveway. It was great to see these images on his video recorder, male with a tan winter coat, light colored pants and carrying something in his hand, not too much detail on the face and we could not tell how the subject initially entered the property. Mr. Neighbor quickly called the police who reviewed the video and started an investigation using the description from the video. There was not much to go on and the police were not confident they would be able to catch the thief.

A short time later Mr. Neighbor tracked a purchase made to his credit card at a local supermarket. He and his son went to the location and discovered the stolen car in the parking lot, keys still in it along with multiple drug needles and a bag of heroin. Instead of waiting for the police they took the car home, not before taking all of the drug paraphernalia and tossing it in the trash.

Once they were home they contacted the police who went to the supermarket to view their video. While reviewing the store’s CCTV video the police discovered that the subject was in fact a male, but was wearing a black jacket with dark blue jeans, and could clearly see that he was of Hispanic decent. Further, they were able to see that the subject was not alone. A second subject was in the car and was clearly identified by the officer as a local bad boy routinely caught up in drugs and thefts. The second the police officer saw the individual an immediate call was placed to his probation officer to have the person arrested. The officer went on to explain that the usual M.O. for these two was to case a property first, come back at a later time, drop off the passenger (car thief) in the front of the property or driveway, then wait in case the passenger got into any trouble for a quick getaway. They knew all about these two. Mr. Neighbor did not have any of this on his video.

Once the police had the supermarket video they were quick to make arrests. Although Mr. Neighbor had a video of the incident it was not sufficient for actionable data. Had the thief not used Mr. Neighbor’s credit card at the supermarket the police would have had a very difficult time looking for the subject in a tan winter coat and light jeans when he was really wearing a black jacket and blue jeans. Further, had the camera been focused in the right areas the police would have noticed the car at the head of the driveway and would have identified the known subject much earlier. As it now stands we discovered that the two thieves had been hitting the neighborhood all morning long as many residents in the neighborhood reported very similar break-ins.

So even though Mr. Neighbor had purchased a video system it was not sufficient enough to give law enforcement the proper data to start their investigation. In the end it was a supermarket’s commercial grade CCTV system and a credit card transaction that ended the theft spree of the two individuals.

And there is another benefit to a commercial grade system – it comes with a full warranty. This means that if a camera or recorder isn’t doing its intended job or working properly, a service technician is sent free of charge to fix it. With the budget system, the best you can do is ship it back to the place of purchase and wait for the replacements to arrive which is usually 1 – 2 weeks if you’re lucky.

The moral – you get what you pay for. If a 4 camera commercial grade CCTV system costs $5,000 and you can “pick one up” online with a $500 budget then you shouldn’t expect the type of installation and quality needed for police to take proper action. It was great that Mr. Neighbor was able to catch the incident on video – however it didn’t help in catching the thieves. Was his money well spent? ■

Authored By:  Scott Roberts


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