Saturday, 15 March 2014

The World According to Snafu - Security Cameras

Why do people bother with security cameras? How often have you seen a police copy of the footage taken from a security camera and even with the villain staring straight into the camera, you would have no clues as to whether or not it was Adam although the fig leaf would be a clue. The image quality is often so poor, that you can easily see the modus operandi, something that is already painfully obvious from the broken locks or other damage. Who the perpetrator is still remains a blurred indistinct mystery. We are often shown on TV and in movies how the police enhance an image and end up with a recognisable culprit, but that is fantasy. If you build an image from certain sized blocks of detail, there is no way you can take those blocks to pieces and get any more detail from them, any more than you can make a Van Gogh painting reveal any more detail than Vincent put into it in the first place. If you have security cameras for anything other than a deterrent, you need an image that reveals enough detail to make an indisputable identification. It is has been possible to buy an HD video recorder for under thirty pounds for some years now. A cheap camera that will produce the same kind of image a High Definition TV can display, so why haven’t security cameras caught up with present day standards? Even modern smart phones have better cameras on them than most security cameras, so why are they still so expensive and so rarely upgraded. A few more lines of detail could solve an immense number of crimes at a stroke. A few years ago we had a spate of car break-ins and our immediate neighbours lost some stuff from their car, so we both decided to put up some security cameras. The images were sort of Ok, but I was disappointed with the results. The cameras that came with the recorder kit, were too narrow an angle for one position, so I bought a more expensive one to cover that position and it produces images which were acceptable. The other cheap cameras worked OK in daylight, but even with their built in infrared lamps were pretty poor at night and fitted in well with my previous views of their use other than as a deterrent. Not only do they give a dim blurred image they make dark blue clothes white at night and pink in daylight! In the end I decided to upgrade all the cameras after a strange incident. We had a call from the local police. They wondered if I would mind letting them have a look at the footage from my camera for a certain date. I had no objection, so a few days later two police women came and had a look at what I had found on our system, it was not much and during the protracted business of extracting the recording from our DVR for the date they wanted, the darned thing crashed and refused to co-operate with the police. I apologised for wasting their time and told them I would get them a copy of the dates when I had persuaded the cranky thing to start working again. I was able to eventually get the dates they wanted but it was a vague darkened blur, something I had already pointed out to them it almost certainly would be, even when found. They duly returned a few days later to see what I had found. They had removed their shoes on the previous visit to preserve our carpets from their large standard issue police woman’s boots, but this time one asked if I would mind her leaving her boots on. She explained that the darned things were so difficult to get on and off it would be quicker if she could just slip on those blue overshoes you see in crime dramas, which she had in her pocket. So I agreed and we looked at the CD I had produced, decided it was not a lot of good and taking it with them for further examination took their leave. As the booted policewoman removed her blue overshoes, I remarked that I had only recently had to wear those, whilst cleaning out the house of a deceased relative. At which point the second officer exclaimed, ‘I know who you are!’. Not something you want to hear the police to say, however innocent you are. It turned out that her mother and father were the people who had been really helpful dealing with the property I was sorting out as executor to my brother in law’s estate. They had a key my late brother in law had given them and whenever we were not able to be there had let in estate agents and such and had generally been very helpful in keeping an eye on the place for us. It is a small world. Apart from the coincidence of the local police being related to our friends in the town where my brother in law had lived, the whole incident had made me aware that our security system was not so secure, in fact it was to put it bluntly, a load of poo! So I decided to upgrade, put my money where my mouth was so to speak. Having slated the industry in general I was beholden to act and so I bought a new DVR and after that had bedded in, I got some new higher definition cameras. The new DVR is great, you can search for a particular date and time and it does not go into a sulk and refuse to cooperate. Now we know what our paperboy looks like and who it is that keeps delivering all those nice shiny new leaflets for us to put straight into the recycling bin. One of the unwanted things that outside cameras do is record spiders. This does not happen in the day time because the webs are invisible, but at night when the infrared lamps turn on, they glow brightly and you can capture miles of footage of spiders busily building a beautiful web, which sadly I will have to destroy the next day. These new high definition cameras are brilliant, they produce a really sharp image and I have chosen wide angle lenses which capture more of what I want to keep secure. Whilst we were away on an extended visit once, someone attacked the hinges on our patio doors, but fell short of removing them before we got back, so one view is of those doors and the detail is brilliant, we can see next door’s cat in crystal clear reproduction as she prowls our garden in search of prey. She seems to have finished off all the frogs now and is looking for something else to exterminate. We can also watch the progress of the fox who craps on our front lawn, something we had hitherto believed to be the cat and so cleared her of that crime. I can also look at my cameras whilst anywhere, using my smart phone, so I do not even need to be home to see who is breaking in. The strange thing about high definition cameras are some of the things you see that you would otherwise miss, like this incredible footage.

I wondered why this violent blizzard was not heaping snow on the cars, until I realised it was not snow at all, it is fog. The bloody cameras are microscopes! The minute droplets of mist are illuminated by the infrared lights and look for all the world like snowflakes. Oh well, so much for high definition cameras.


  1. Oldest son, Glyn, had security cameras all around his property at his last house. (They moved last week). He has a lot of expensive equipment and several out buildings housing it. The really interesting thing he saw on the footage was of a mountain lion walking across their back yard and casually strolling along the side of the house under the window where his daughter sleeps! But their area, somewhat out of town has many illegal immigrants. In general our neighbors to the south are wonderfully happy and nice people, but most of the illegals already have criminal records.

  2. I receive a daily news feed from the Toronto Police Services re: missing persons, robberies, assaults, break-ins etc, and often the news feed contains security camera footage, from, for example, the front of the victims house, or a purse snatching in progress in a subway station. It amazes me as to how clear the footage is. I also get the news feeds when the police find a missing person or capture a criminal, and it is amazing how often, and how quickly they do. I am sure that published stills from a security video has to be a great help in this. I do agree that often the quality is NOT good, but at least what the person was wearing (patterns on jacket, or badge on a cap, boots, shoes etc) has to be helpful in tracking the perpetrators down.

    1. Toronto must be more up with the leading edge of camera technology than the UK. Most really awful footage comes from convinience store robberies, but quite often official cameras are really poor quality.

  3. Really interesting about that snow fog!!

  4. I'm lucky enough to live in an area where there isn't much real crime. Lots of illegal parking and quite a bit of fly tipping - but nothing too dramatic. Although somebody nicked the lead off the church roof a couple of years ago.