New technology leads to burglary arrest
A split-second was all it took for Rochester police to learn Brandon Franklin Atkinson had entered a closed construction site in the middle of the night.
A video of the incident shows Atkinson emerging from an interior doorway of the unfinished hotel, then immediately ducking back, but it was enough to trigger one of the security cameras, which then tripped the alarm system.
"Just a millisecond," said Jacob Hughes, executive director of Premier Security , which installed the system. "It was just enough to tell there was a body in there."
There have been about 60 commercial burglaries reported in Rochester since Jan. 1. Premier's camera alarm system is the only one that's resulted in an arrest.
Within 10 seconds of an alarm going off, personnel at the alarm company's monitoring station receive a video alert of what caused the alarm to trip. They can view it, then decide the proper response.
If it's an animal, the wind, or another harmless trigger, no big deal. The system is reset, no emergency response is required.
But if it's an intruder — it's a big deal. The monitoring personnel notify law enforcement that there is a "verified alarm" — and that's an important term — going so far as to describe the scene, the number of intruders, what they may be wearing or even if they have a weapon visible.
That's what happened in the Atkinson case. Officers learned there was someone inside the construction site, said Capt. John Sherwin of the Rochester Police Department. Police responded quickly, set up a perimeter and arrested the 23-year-old homeless man.
He was cited Wednesday with entering a locked/posted construction site and possession of a dangerous weapon-metal knuckles. Both are misdemeanors.
The camera alarm system "allowed police to get there quicker, no doubt," Hughes said.
Sherwin agreed, saying that to law enforcement, a verified alarm means the call goes from a simple burglar alarm to a burglary in progress.
"It changes our response, absolutely," Sherwin said. "It ups the response. When you're a patrol officer, you respond to hundreds and hundreds of false alarms in your career. You remember the real ones."
The 900 megahertz system helps prevent jamming, Hughes said, and is completely wireless.
Installation of a base unit and cameras — the number needed depends on the size of the setting — can be completed in 30 minutes. The most basic system may be leased for $450 per month, including the fee for the monitoring company.
"It's so easy to set up, take down, move the cameras around," Hughes said. It's programmable, as well, so if a business forgets to arm the system at its usual closing time, it'll be done automatically.
Outside cameras are also available. They're equipped with a passive infra-red system, and heat signature indications may be adjusted according to the season.
The images aren't designed for clear identification of suspects, but the simple knowledge that somebody actually is there. The cameras look for all the world like an air freshener.
"There's no indication to the intruder" that it's a security camera, said Dan Walker, president and CEO of Premier Security. "They can walk right by the system and not know it; there are no red lights or anything."
Yet the images are clear — clearer than a trail cam, Walker said.
TRUST Security of Rochester, the only authorized ADT dealer in Minnesota, carries the ADT Pulse.
"With the addition of cameras to a home security system, the client can view the camera live from anywhere in the world," said Peggy Woodring, one of the owners.
If the alarm is tripped, a client with a smart phone will get an alert right away, she said, and be able to pull up the video.
ADT cannot view the indoor-only cameras, Woodring said, just the client. The video can be saved.
Monitoring for that level of service is $58.99 a month plus tax, she said. The equipment is additional, and begins at a few hundred dollars per month, depending on cameras and other components and depending on the network.
So far, the new technology has been effective, Walker said, with police making an arrest 90 percent or more of the time.
The video captured by the monitoring station may also be emailed to law enforcement at the scene, if they request it, for identification comparisons. Typically, access to on-site surveillance video from an incident is hours after the fact.
Premier Security, which counts Rochester Public Schools among its clients, responds to approximately 750 alarms here every year.
In the case of the hotel construction site last week, "we're glad the system did what it's supposed to do, but at the same time, we're sad they got hit," Hughes said.
Sherwin acknowledges that "it'd be nice" if every business had the system, "but businesses have to make that decision, weigh the loss" against the prevention costs.
"But that's really our big success in catching these guys — a silent entry alarm or a means not readily obvious to the burglar," he said. "Technology has the potential to make it a lot more difficult for a burglar to operate, but it hasn't always been embraced."
Walker believes he has the solution.
"If everyone in Rochester went with it, the criminals here would be out of a job."