Home surveillance systems catch crimes on camera, but video doesn't always lead to justice
Her phone lit up. She opened her home surveillance system's app to see video of her front porch. A package had arrived, a $300 tote to carry her laptop and other supplies to and from work. It was a purchase Brandi Guarneri was looking forward to receiving.
But before she could leave work and move the package inside, she got a second alert.
All she could do was watch remotely, as a man on the screen picked up the box containing her new work tote and walked away.
"Like, 'Oh my goodness, I can't believe someone just literally walked up and walked away with it,'" she recalls thinking.
She quickly uploaded the video to the Nextdoor app, and one of her neighbors caught up with the man minutes later, but the package was nowhere to be seen.
"We got you on video jacking a package of somebody's porch, where'd you put the package?" the woman can be heard asking as she records video with a phone.
"I don't know what you're talking about," the man says, before Guarneri says he took off running.
Guarneri says she reported the theft to Anchorage police and offered up the surveillance and cell phone videos, but isn't holding her breath waiting for justice.
"I told [APD] I had these videos, but they said that unless the video showed like an address or a license plate, it didn't do them any good," she said, later adding, "They said there's no way you can just identify him off a picture."
She doubts it was the man's first — or last — time stealing from Alaskans.
"It was just kinda frustrating that there was nothing that could be done," Guarneri said.
In comments posted to Facebook Thursday, KTVA followers echoed that sentiment.
"In two years I've caught half a dozen people pulling the door handle on my vehicles and looking inside them" wrote Michael Odell. "Police only came one out of three times, nothing ever came of it."
Geoff Van Horn said, in part, "I bought one, got video of 4 different groups burglarizing vehicles in my neighborhood, handed the video over to police every time and nothing ever happened."
APD Capt. Josh Nolder said he's noticed that as surveillance technology has become more sophisticated and affordable, it's also become more prevalent in Anchorage.
"We’re just seeing so much more of it, pretty much everywhere," he said.
And no matter the crime, Nolder says police would always rather have video of it than not. But video, Nolder says, rarely closes a case on its own.
Factors like quality of the video and whether it was shot at night or during the day can impact its usefulness, as black and white video makes it difficult to give an accurate description of a suspect's clothing. A blurry video might not allow police to read a license plate. Sometimes video shows a picture, but doesn't record crucial sound.
Even if a video perfectly captures a crime, there's a chance it won't be admitted into court for prosecution.
"Is it 100%? No. If it was, then I think you'd have some statistics as to how often surveillance footage made the case," said Nolder. "It very rarely makes the case. Sometimes it does, but more than anything, it just adds additional evidence that helps us solve those crimes."
Nolder said while he wishes every cop were an encyclopedia of the people committing crimes, they're not. Police often rely on the public's help identifying individuals who are caught on camera committing crimes, requests residents typically only receive in more serious cases.
A combination of traffic, business and home surveillance cameras helped APD piece together a road rage incident that left a toddler injured by a stray bullet in Fairview. Police identified and charged two suspects, believed to be the drivers.
In another, more recent case, surveillance video shows two arson suspects but only one of them has been identified and neither of them have been arrested.
While APD doesn't have a way to track the actual effectiveness of surveillance video in solving crimes, Nolder says it never hurts. He asks that residents always turn over video of criminal activity, even if they don't believe it will lead to an arrest.
Nolder also urges people to write down the serial numbers and other identifying information so they can claim items that are stolen and later recovered.
When it comes to mail theft, which is a federal crime, authorities suggest purchasing a secure, locked mailbox or have mail delivered to another location like a workplace. They also say to check mail as soon as possible after it gets delivered and, if you plan to be away for an extended period of time, consider placing a hold on mail or renting a post office box.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
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