The Great Camera Debate

We put up a camera outside our house recently to capture the image (ideally) of the person or people who have been harvesting out of the cars in our neighborhood over the last few months. Years possibly, although it did stop for a few months. Sometimes it happens twice a week. We go out in the morning to find the glove box emptied onto the floor, the change slot emptied and the doors ajar.

We’ve lost more than one cell-phone, two electric razors, car-phone chargers, quarters, a large marble curio, 3 CD players, the occasional hand-held video game, a few prescription pills… Nothing of extremely high value, but it’s definitely an annoyance at best and a violation at worst.

After my window was smashed to get my stereo out of the car, I stopped locking the doors. The next time my stereo was taken, I didn’t have to replace a window, but my neighbor down the street did. Kind of a toss-up as to whether we’re better off locking the doors or not.  As a punishment for my negligence (once left the doors unlocked, once left the removable faceplate in the car) I have not replaced the CD player.

As for leaving things in the car, we try hard not to do it, but sometimes we fail, or a phone slips onto the floor unnoticed until we can’t find it and go look on line to see it’s being used to call New Orleans at 3 in the morning.  So although we sometimes make the mistake of leaving something of value in the car, it’s  totally lame for people to blame the day to day folks for an occasional oversight when there’s a guy whose roaming the alleys and streets with the sole intent of stealing other people’s stuff.

We’ve fantasized about sticking mouse-traps in the glove box, which is routinely emptied in the rifling. We talked about an explosive with a blue dye like they put in expensive clothes. We thought about staking out the park and waiting. I actually considered lacing appetizing snacks with sick-making stuff (which as you can see, was a thought that wasn’t well formed)… The whole business has caused much bad energy in our lives.

After a recent spate of riflings both in the alley and on the street, we finally followed through on one plan. We got a night-vision, motion activated camera, which Andy mounted aiming at our cars.

Last night, the second of two nights we’ve had the camera, we caught a guy on video going through my car. It’s kind of creepy and kind of surprising. I thought for sure it was kids. It isn’t. It looks like a middle aged white guy, and he’s riding a bike. he spends all of about 45 seconds going through my car and then rides off with a few coins (and sticky fingers because of the spilled pop in one of the little coin collectors. haha).
We put the video on YouTube and informed the neighbors, asking if they recognized the guy. We got a number of thank-yous from annoyed neighbors. We also got a couple objections to the idea of putting a camera in the alley. People found it disturbing and a little “big brother”. I’m glad we have both in the neighborhood. I’m going to have to disagree with them, however.

My first thought is, but hey, we’re the good guys, and we’re protecting all the good guys. True, but everybody (maybe not everybody, like not the guy rifling our cars) – almost everybody thinks they’re the forces of good, and not everybody is. So just because I think we are, doesn’t give me the right to invade other people’s privacy.

Fair, but I am of the opinion that other people’s privacy pretty much ends once they break into my car.  There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public alley.

My  next thought is, but this guy, or these guys, are really pissing me off. More than one bad decision has been made in response to being pissed off, so I guess that isn’t a great defense.

The camera is aimed in front of our garage at our cars, not down the length of the alley, not out into the park. We’re not looking in people’s windows, not policing the activity in the alley. We don’t even check the camera unless it looks like the cars have been tampered with. The system isn’t broadcast, or even close-circuited. We have to go remove the clip from the camera (with a ladder) and check it frame by frame.

This turned out to be a bit of a hitch when the sunflowers got tall enough to trigger the motion sensor.  We got frame after frame of black and white, night vision sunflowers waggling in the wind.  The truth is, I’m not even torn about this at all.  I really like the Predator Extinction Cam.