San Francisco Company Helps Fight Crime With Security Cameras

Bay Area residents turn to security cameras to combat property crimes

By Stephanie Chuang
|  Tuesday, Jul 23, 2013  |  Updated 10:41 AM PDT
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Bay Area residents turn to security cameras to combat property crimes. Stephanie Chuang reports.

NBC Bay Area

Bay Area residents turn to security cameras to combat property crimes. Stephanie Chuang reports.

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It’s three in the morning and you hear an alert on your phone – a text message – but it’s not from a person. It’s from your security camera at the office. The message? There’s activity that’s not supposed to be there. You call police and as you watch the thieves from your phone, you tell officers exactly where the culprits are.

That’s the scenario Greg Duffy hears about routinely. Duffy is the co-founder of DropCam, a San Francisco-based company that produces “plug and play” cameras. However, unlike old-fashioned security cameras, the footage is stored in virtual servers of the cloud, not in a hard drive. Duffy said for thieves, this is bad news.

“Little did they know right when they’re walking up to the camera that their face is being broadcast to that user’s secure cloud storage,” Duffy said. “And usually that ends up with them being caught.”

Steve Chipman said that’s what happened for him. He described a quiet San Rafael neighborhood that suddenly got hit with auto thefts.

“You feel violated," Chipman said. "You feel why is someone coming to our neighborhood?”

So he set up a DropCam perched on his window, overlooking his driveway. In March, his prediction came true and his vehicle was hit. He went through the footage when his wife alerted him to the theft.

He said it was almost like watching a movie.

“It was a little bit creepy where he closes the rear hatch and kind of peers ominously at the camera,” Chipman said. “That part was a little unsettling.”

The man is caught on camera and doesn’t leave the cul-de-sac for almost 11 minutes, even appearing to pause and consider another theft before leaving. That was enough footage for another neighbor to identify the man, who Chipman described as “a neighborhood kid.”

“It was enough to let the police officer know who probably did it and he was able to go down to the neighbor’s house, put enough fear in the kid that he went and returned all of our belongings,” Chipman added. “[The officer] initially told us the odds of getting our stuff back was about one in 1,000.”

Albert Morales, a spokesman for the San Jose Police Department, told NBC Bay Area that this kind of technology is “extremely helpful,” especially as the department has slashed more than 300 sworn positions in the last couple of years, leaving property crime to take a backseat to violent crime. At the same time, the number of property crimes have been spiking.

According to the FBI’s statistics for the change from 2011 to 2012, San Jose property crimes rose 23 percent. Other Bay Area examples include Oakland, which went up 21 percent, Santa Clara going up 11 percent, and Sunnyvale experienced a 23 percent increase.

“The use of devices like wireless cameras and video surveillance give an accurate account of an incident as it is taking place,” Morales said in an email. “If citizens are monitoring a live video feed, they can report real time activity to police that could aid in the identification and arrest of suspect(s).”

Duffy said the number of daily DropCam video uploads has surpassed that of YouTube uploads. The company is also set to triple its staff to around 100 by the end of the year, something Duffy attributes to the growing popularity of both DropCam’s software and hardware. For him, it began with a frustrated father who tried to catch a culprit leaving “gifts” on his property.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” Duffy began. “My dad was trying to catch a neighbor letting his dog poop in his yard.”

And that was the beginning. Now he hopes others will realize they don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for an elaborate security system.

“It’s useful whether you’re trying to be your own crime fighter or just somebody who loves watching videos on the internet like I do.”

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