Burglary Victims Catch Thieves With Home Surveillance Cameras

PHOTO: Levent Cetiner was working in his office in Chelsea when his motion-activated home camera began emailing him pictures of a thief in his apartment. He called the police immediately, ran home, and began banging on the door. The police arrived and arrPlayLevent Cetiner
WATCH Owner Catches Burglar on Hidden Camera

Discovering a thief broke into your home while you were off at work is sure to set off a range of emotions: Shock, fear, sadness over your irreplaceable property.

Jeanne Thomas, a Boynton Beach, Fla., resident experienced all of that.

"It's just total violation," she said. "It's like, how could somebody do this?"

Her jewelry, valuable coin collection, video equipment and even her little boy's baby videos were stolen while Thomas was at work and her house was unguarded, save a menagerie of rabbits, birds, a cat and two dogs.

Sgt. Steve Wessendorf of the Boynton Beach, Fla., Police Department explains it's nothing personal for the bad guys.

"Burglaries are a crime of opportunity for the most part," he said. "I can sit and watch your house, and know that you go to work every single day at 9 o'clock and you are gone from 9 to 5."

It may take a day or two, but eventually some burglary victims can expect to have a desire for payback. You will want the person who stole your stuff to be caught and, thanks to inexpensive, simple-to-use high tech gadgets, an image of the creep may be just what you desire.

Sgt. Wessendorf spells out a sobering truth: "Unless we catch them in the act they get away with it."

Caught in the Act

Levent Centiner is a system administrator at New York's School of Visual Arts. He noticed a sign in his apartment building warning of a recent burglary attempt, so he looked for a high-tech solution.

He purchased a $50 Trendnet wireless, infrared camera with motion detection. He powered it up, configured it for his wifi network and instructed it to send him a photo if it detected any motion in his apartment when he was out.

Shortly before last Christmas, 2011, Centiner was sitting in his office desk three blocks from home when his set-up fired off its first images to his email inbox.

"Six images of a guy coming in from my window. From what I saw it looked like he was sitting on my couch," remembered Centiner. "It's like watching a reality show but it's directly affecting you."

The tech wiz phoned 911 and the crook was caught. He now advocates everyone get a camera for their home.

"I'm behind the idea that people should try on their own. It's technology and it's a part of our lives so we should know how to do these things."

But not everyone likes the idea of having a camera in their home. Whether it's the fear of big brother or a Luddite's romanticized memory of simpler times, you may find resistance to installing a system.

Back in Florida, Jeanne Thomas found such resistance right at home.

"My husband thought it was the stupidest idea in the world. He said, 'This is a total waste of money. Why are you doing this?' I said, 'You know what? This is my money. Let me purchase this.'"

Thomas bought an off-the-shelf system from Logitech for $250. She says it was a snap to set up with no wires or confusing configurations. Because of the animals in her home she didn't activate the motion detection, but her home computer was constantly recording the video and, whenever the urge hit her, she could log on from work and see a live feed on her laptop.

"I want to know what's happening in this house when I'm not here. So I bought the video surveillance system."

It was an old-fashioned, uneasy feeling she received one day while at work that caused her to log on to see what was doing in her house.

"I was sitting at the office and I had this feeling something was wrong. So I logged on and when I logged on there was this man standing in my living room," she said.

Thomas had stumbled upon a robbery in progress in her own home. She phoned 911 and narrated what she was seeing. She now remembers, "It was just surreal. They had no idea I was watching, but I was!"

The police swooped in and arrested two men without incident. Thomas is sure they are the same guys who hit her the first time.

"I felt like they came back to get things they had left behind the first time."

She now has one bit of advice for would-be criminals: "When you think that nobody's watching, there could be somebody else watching."

As for the husband that doubted Jeanne Thomas's plan to buy the webcam for the house? They are now divorced.

"He's changed his mind now. He thought that was probably one of the smartest things I did," Thomas said.

Other Sensible Advice for Home Surveillance

James Lopez is the general manager for Logitech's digital video security business unit. He says Thomas' and Centiner's desire to see what was happening in their home while they are at work is what is driving adoption.

"Consumers are thinking what's going to give me peace of mind when I am away. That's why video security technology is becoming more prevalent," Lopez said. "Most customers are driven to technology by crime events. The type of crime and the proximity to that person is what determines the urgency and what solution they buy. We suggest you don't wait for the event to happen. Get that peace of mind before you need it."

Lopez suggests consumers use common sense when leaving home to avoid intruders. Don't post online that you are leaving town, don't allow mail to pile up, and post security signage to prevent criminals that are looking for opportunities. But if someone does break in there is nothing like video to help solve the crime.

"An alarm can tell you that something happened, but video can tell you exactly what happened. A consumer can get an instant snap shot of what is happening at that very moment," he said. "People are trying to connect the dots and use technology to connect their home to them while they are on the go. Video never lies. It tells a story in a very real way. It can give them that look inside, on their cell phone or other devices when they are not at home."

The idea is to deter, detect and identify:

Deter: Put up signage that cameras are monitoring activity. Make cameras visible, but put them high up or behind a window and conceal wiring so they are not easily accessible to disconnect.

Detect: Think about multiple cameras in different entry points. Protect cameras from moisture and look for a good line of sight (clear of trees and bushes).The more information you have the more armed you are. Motion detection can quickly alert you to a possible problem.

Identify: Get the highest resolution and frame rate you can afford. Quality is important. The technology now can capture very clear pictures, but some lower quality cameras will produce blurry images. Don't point the cameras directly at light but have good lighting around and consider infrared for night vision. Host a camera at head level to catch an intruder's face and consider a bird's-eye view to document the full scene.

When it comes to video security, the price you pay will depend on the level of peace of mind you require. A simple IP camera that sends you a quick look in can be had for less than $100, while multiple analog cameras that record to a central DVR cost less than $500. High-end systems will include a deluxe digital day/night remotely accessible recorded feed.

Logitech's consumer friendly "Alert" security system comes with the required configuration software, uses your existing power outlets, and is easy to expand with additional cameras. Each camera has built-in storage and can be accessed from the Internet or a smart phone with a password, so you don't need to leave your computer on all day.

The indoor system can be had for $270 and the outdoor system for $310. Additional cameras start at $229.

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11: 35 p.m. ET/PT