Originally created 10/06/04

Cameras help when they function properly



In a day and age when surveillance cameras are everywhere, conventional wisdom has it that burglaries and robberies are easy to solve.

But Richmond County sheriff's officers say it isn't so.

The agency has had problems in investigating robberies and burglaries at businesses such as convenience stores, simply because the video system wasn't functioning right, or didn't work at all, they said.

"It hinders us," said sheriff's Lt. C.A. Tony Walden, over the property crimes unit of the Criminal Investigation Division. "It's very frustrating when we know we could have had (the perpetrator) on camera, but didn't."

Many of the bigger retail operations have adequate monitoring systems, Lt. Walden said, but smaller "mom and pop" stores don't.

Steve Bloedel, the owner of Aiken Augusta Security, said many smaller businesses spring for cheaper all-in-one, do-it-yourself kits that cost hundreds, instead of thousands of dollars.

The difference, Mr. Bloedel said, is the cheaper systems feature parts that aren't as easily interchangeable, because cameras and cables aren't standardized. "You get what you pay for," he added.

Lt. Walden said sometimes the units don't work - which might work as a visual deterrent, but doesn't help in the hunt for a criminal.

Another factor: Tapes in the systems' recorders can fail. And some criminals have been known to take the tape with them in the course of a robbery or burglary because the recorder wasn't in a secure place, the lieutenant said.

What's been helpful to investigators in solving crimes is having a clear picture to pass along to local print and television news media, so the public can help spot the suspect, Lt. Walden said.

Having a working video surveillance system is crucial.

"It gives us an opportunity to get the evidence out to the media," he said. "We've solved many a case through the media."

The technology of video monitoring has advanced to the point where the visual data can be monitored away from the business, either via a telephone line or the Internet, Mr. Bloedel said.

Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or jeremy.craig@augustachronicle.com.