Bay Area Neighbors Use YouTube and More to Nab Thieves

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Armed with new technologies, Bay Area residents are turning to private video surveillance, YouTube, Reddit and other Social Media sites to help catch thieves near their homes and providing that information to police. Stephanie Chuang reports.

    It was all captured on camera: Less than 60 seconds after the United States Postal Service mail carrier dropped off Norm Yee’s package on the front porch of his Fremont house, a woman drove past, made a U-turn, then pulled into his driveway before turning off her engine. She got out of the car, appeared to casually walk up and swoop up the waiting package, before tossing it into her car and driving off.
     
    Just 20 minutes later, Yee, 38, was home from work. Later, he realized the package due on his door step never made it and reviewed the footage from his two security cameras perched atop the garage and porch.

    “I was fuming for a little while,” Yee recalled.

    He made a copy and handed it to Fremont police, who said two weeks later, they’re still working on trying to lift any leads from the footage.

    Police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques added in an email that “most officers look at video at the site, take a copy and bring it back as evidence."

     Occasionally, she said, they will seek the help of a detective or employee who has video software loaded to help get more data from the footage. Bosques added that the department’s fairly new YouTube channel that features a couple doorstep thefts from November and December 2012 has already netted “many tips.”
     
    But Yee didn’t wait around. He showed the footage to his co-workers, one of whom decided to take it a step further.

    Patrick Li, 33 of Fremont, posted the footage on the social networking site Reddit. 

    “Reddit is a place where there’s tons, tons of smart people tons of experts in different domains,” Li explained. “I’ve seen it in the past where it has worked on Reddit, where someone posts a story about a fight or something and people were able to ID who that person was.”
     
    One Reddit user took it even further than that.

    “A gentleman named Aaron, he scrubbed the video and tried to extract the license plate from the video, the grainy video. He was able to try to make out a couple letters and numbers but it still was really hard to make out.”
     
    In San Jose near Campbell, Rhonda Boos was reviewing similar security camera footage at her home on Wyrick Avenue. A woman pulled up after a FedEx package drop off at the Boos’ front door. A wine barrel completely obscured the package from the sight of passing traffic, Boos said she knew it was a theft even without looking over the footage.

     “She got out, she didn’t look uncomfortable at all, she was nicely dressed. She looked like she belonged in the neighborhood,” said Boos. “And that’s the scariest kind of criminal.”
     
    But Boos is relying on a new tool that has given her a sense of confidence that that woman won’t come back. Nextdoor.com, a San Francisco-based company, launched in 2011 but grew last year. It connects neighbors, allowing them to alert one another more quickly on one forum. “Things like this won’t happen as often, because we’re going to have everyone watching out and on the lookout.”
     
    So, what did these women walk away with? From Yee’s place, it was a pair of snowboarding pants for his wife. From the Boos residence, three Tommy Bahama shirts. “Hope they’re her size!” joked Boos. But both victims of theft concluded they believe that karma will play catch up, and the women will eventually get caught.