Today, we rely on videos to document everything in the moment from wedding vows to birthdays to what we are currently eating at restaurants. They can be a great way to reminisce, or they can be great ways to settle disputes peacefully—could you imagine the chaos that would ensue amongst superfans (I may or may not be talking about me) if it weren’t for instant replay?
In fact, one of my favorite television commercials by Progressive Insurance shows a couple on a camping trip disputing who forgot to pack the life vests for their canoes. A classic case of “he said, she said” until one of them throws a “challenge flag” and out of nowhere a replay official jumps out with the conclusive video evidence to settle the argument. (In case you were wondering, the woman is always right.) While we all wish we had the proverbial challenge flag to throw in real life, many businesses that have surveillance cameras have that exact ability at their disposal. Sometimes, it can prove us right and sometimes it can be an eye-opening experience that spins our perceived reality right on its head.
That’s exactly what happened to one campus hotel in the Pacific Northwest. During the pandemic, they saw an opportunity to utilize their rooms to ease the burdens of the housing crisis in their community. However, eventually the hotel transitioned away from providing shelter to those in need and pivoted back to servicing guests lodging in the area. Yet, they began to see a disturbing pattern. A homeless man was consistently getting by the front desk and breaking into their hotel rooms to shower and sleep. It was happening so frequently, that it was becoming a safety issue. On one occasion he broke into a room and accidently startled a prospective student and her mother who were staying in the room. Hotel management immediately looked to remedy potential security gaps at the front door and ground level which included adding security cameras to their facilities.
When another break-in occurred, the Director of Campus Safety turned to their surveillance video and was surprised with what they discovered. “Within a week we were able to see the individual using the generator enclosure to climb up the building to the balconies and crawling through the windows.”
“When something is amidst or a crime has been committed, we are focused on the crime itself. How it happened is often just a guess until we have more supporting evidence or proof,” says Marc Adler, a private investigator.
In the case of the hotel, their focus was on the ground floor. A focus that was misplaced. “We would have kept solving problems on the ground floor and he would have kept hopping right over,” explained the Director of Campus Safety. “We would have spent a lot of money and wouldn’t have solved the problem.”
According to security experts, cameras can act as a deterrent to potential criminal or unwanted behavior. However, when that fails, and crimes are committed, cameras can provide a missing link that fills in the gaps as to what transpired.
Mike Chao, a property manager in New York oversees several residential and retail buildings. In one of the apartment buildings he is responsible for, the main entrance door had been repeatedly tampered with and damaged within the same month. “We have twenty plus residents in the building, and someone tipped us off that one particular tenant might be the culprit.” It was becoming such a problem that they were contemplating upgrading their entire entrance door with a heavily fortified one with an electronic security system. Quotes came in tallying several thousand dollars. When they checked the video recordings, they noticed that multiple tenants were having problems with their keys getting stuck in the lock and aggressively jiggling the cylinder. The specific model of cylinder that they were using was causing the keys to stick and break the lock. “We ended up making a quick fix that cost us under $100 instead of the thousands we were prepared to spend,” according to Chao. More importantly, Chao says that the real value of the video far exceeded any dollar amount. “Being able to go back and see what was really happening on video ultimately saved us from falsely accusing someone based on misguided information.”
In a report coordinated by the U.S. National Research Council, where a committee of psychologists and criminologists examined eyewitness accounts and how much confidence to place in it, they concluded that they aren’t as reliable as many would think. People’s memories can be influenced by a myriad of outside factors and experts say that the further removed one is from an incident the less accurate their memories tend to be. Elizabeth Loftus, one of the psychologists on the committee from UCLA told Science Insider, said, “Just because someone says something confidently doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Adler agrees and says that in his experience, people’s minds tend to fill in the gaps where their memories fade but that eyewitness accounts can give context to a situation and still be a valuable piece of the puzzle. Yet, when it comes to cameras, “they represent a set of eyes with a perfect memory.”
Many security and law enforcement experts concede that when it comes to solving crimes or sorting out what really happens, video can be a great way to connect the dots, but it only works if the tool itself is sharp.
HOW TO ENSURE GOOD VIDEO:
- Quality of video—Footage is only useful if you can clearly see what is happening. Video quality and crispness of detail is important. Grainy or substandard images can only lead to more questions than answers.
- Blind spots—Make sure you have ample camera coverage to cover the entire area you are trying to monitor. Eliminate blind spots where people or inventory is out of sight or sight lines are compromised or obstructed.
- Video storage—Most storage drives have limited storage space which means that after a certain time frame or after a certain amount of video has been uploaded, the footage will be replaced or overwritten with new video. When video footage is needed for review, it’s imperative you download it immediately before it is deleted and lost.
When footage is available and of good quality, Adler says it can help write a complete story. “It’s like a book. We know what the beginning is and we know what the ending is—usually the crime or accident. But it’s the stuff that happens in the middle that tells us the how and why. Cameras can help fill in all those details and help us finish the story and close the book.”