News

Palo Alto resident with webcam warns of intruder

Warning e-mail, with video stills, sets neighborhood distribution lists abuzz citywide

A tech-savvy homeowner on Tennyson Avenue in Palo Alto used a webcam to record footage of a suspicious man taking pictures of his house and apparently trying to open his front door Friday morning (Feb. 4).

The morning incident in the 400 block of Tennyson surprised the resident, who reported the situation at 10 a.m. to Palo Alto police and e-mailed a warning to neighborhood leaders.

"I saw him, after standing there for a few minutes, nervously looking in the house and around the front yard, reach for our front door handle to see if he could open it," the resident stated in the e-mail to neighbors.

The resident also said the man seemed to be "casing the joint" and attached several still images from the video footage to the e-mail.

Police are reviewing the video footage but the initial police report had no mention of the resident's suspicion that the man was trying to enter the house, Palo Alto police Agent Rich Bullerjahn said.

The resident told police the man was on the property for about a minute and then left, Bullerjahn said. The unknown man was described as Hispanic and in his 30s, 5 feet 8 inches tall, approximately 160 pounds, with dark hair and a goatee. He was wearing a tan puffy jacket.

The resident's e-mail alert was forwarded to Palo Alto Neighborhoods -- the umbrella organization for Palo Alto resident associations -- and to neighborhood groups' distribution lists across the city, according to Duveneck/St. Francis Neighborhood Association President Karen White.

A few people reported receiving multiple copies or third- or fourth-hand.

White said capturing the incident on camera may be a boon for law enforcement and concerned residents.

"As residents, we all can be vigilant. ... To the extent we are able, we can be the eyes on the street for the police," White said.

"You know that saying, 'A picture is worth a thousand words?' In this case, that's very true," White said.

— Sarah Trauben

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:15 pm

> White said capturing the incident on camera may be a boon for law
> enforcement and concerned residents.

Hmmm .. it was only a week, or so, ago that the Chief of Police for Palo Alto claimed that "surveillance cameras were unacceptable for Palo Alto" (or words to that effect).

There sure seems to be a real disconnect between the Police Chief's comments, and those of the Neighborhood Association member quoted in this article.

It's way past time for Palo Alto to use some sort of surveillance equipment.


Like this comment
Posted by DW
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm

"The resident's e-mail alert was forwarded to Palo Alto Neighborhoods -- the umbrella organization for Palo Alto resident associations -- and to neighborhood groups' distribution lists across the city"

I did not receive any email regarding this. How do we sign up? I am the Yahoo group coordinator for our neighborhood.


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I don't understand why survellience cameras aren't acceptable or legal. Cameras are used to catch red-light runners.


Like this comment
Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Feb 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

Try this link DW: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by taking pictures
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Doesn't make sense for a crook to take pictures of your house then try to break in a minute later. More likely, this was a contractor or real estate agent trying to drum up business door-to-door. The homeowner just assumes he is a crook because he may be non-white.


Like this comment
Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I've got a security camera after being robbed several years ago. About a year back someone knocked on our front door then after waiting perhaps long enough to determine nobody was home walked into the backyard for about a minute where I didn't have a camera so couldn't see what he was doing. It is hard to prove intent, but someone shouldn't be doing what his described in this story.

I hope the owner will post is set-up I'd like to improve what I got, since it take a lot of effort to review video and only done when something looks out of place.


Like this comment
Posted by Tanz
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:21 pm

>"I don't understand why survellience cameras aren't acceptable or legal. Cameras are used to catch red-light runners."

You don't understand because you don't know. If you had done any research on red light cameras (any research at all) you'd see that they are essentially revenue-generators and that in practice (real world applications) they have been proven to increase the rate of traffic accidents and related fatalities.


Like this comment
Posted by Tanz
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Look, anyone can argue theory all day. Great Britain has more cameras per capita than just anywhere in the world, has that stopped their crime rates from continuing to rise? Where do cameras actually work on any decently large application, I'll wait...

Meanwhile, how about we continue to strengthen friendships and bonds between neighbors, so that when something is actually up people will notice and make note. Build a community so that outsiders and anti-socials will be obvious and such behaviors disincentivize and I bet you see much better results without spending a lot of money or submitting to surveillance.


Like this comment
Posted by Eichler owner
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 7, 2011 at 9:53 pm

>> Meanwhile, how about we continue to strengthen friendships and bonds >> between neighbors, so that when something is actually up people will >> notice and make note.

That and a security cameras on your front door are not mutually exclusive. The sooner a robber is caught the less houses they can break into later. He is doing everyone a favor.


Like this comment
Posted by Freida Leigh
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 7:56 am

Anyone check with the county assessor's office to find out if the fellow is a tax appraiser?


Like this comment
Posted by 2cents
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:51 am

Tax appraisers would not be trying to open the front door! That's illegal, so it looks like there is something very wrong. Sure is odd that a would-be robber is spending time taking a photo of the front of the house--doesn't he know you can just go on google for that! To criticize this homeowner's concern as racist is really nonsense. Maybe it turns out there is a reasonable explanation. But this kind of behavior is odd and the owner is right to be concerned.


Like this comment
Posted by knocking
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

How does the homeowner know this guy was trying to open the door? Maybe he was knocking on the door? This whole story is very fishy. Sounds like the police don't believe the story either.


Like this comment
Posted by Julius
a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:24 am

I don't understand why people are against security cameras. Isn't it worth being "on record" in public places (including our front yards) in return for a sparse HD recording of all crimes committed there?


Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:22 am

@Taking Pictures...seriously? Your comment is disgusting and offensive. I am so tired of people like you claming that white people are always stereotyping people of other races or ethnic groups.

It is not normal to be taking pictures of someone else's home then try the front door handle. PERIOD.

Stop trying to incite.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:33 am

I have a video surveylance system on my house, and I have provided videos to PAPD of things they were interested in. I will grant that the information from that system will not be enough to get any conviction all alone, but there is a TON of useful information that can be had from even a grainy video, starting with timestamps of events, how many people were there, where did they go, how did they come and go, basically what did they look like, and so on. You may not convict on it, but it can be a great help to the investigation. It can also help when neighborhood kids ding-dong-ditch your door ("I got you on video, we are done now, right?") When someone breaks into your house, or your neighbors house, and the events are caught on video, you have a real weapon.

Keep in mind that if the police start placing cameras all over the city there will probably be a huge backlash against "big brother". But there is nothing to stop individual homeowners from placing a system in their home, covering their yards, streets, and neighbors, and then making that available to police. What goes on in your yard and on the street in front of your house is public and there can be no expectation of privacy from you. You have a right to cover it if you wish.


Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:34 am

Good for the homeowner, protecting his property. Lots of homes now have security cameras at the front door, & there's nothing racist at all about reporting what is seen. Somebody was behaving oddly & trying to open his door!

There are security cameras at ATMs & lots of businesses. I have a camera at my door. If I'm upstairs & resting, or bathing, & the doorbell rings, I want to see who's there before I decide whether to go to the door. Kind of like caller ID.


Like this comment
Posted by Sue
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:34 am

Good for the homeowner, protecting his property. Lots of homes now have security cameras at the front door, & there's nothing racist at all about reporting what is seen. Somebody was behaving oddly & trying to open his door!

There are security cameras at ATMs & lots of businesses. I have a camera at my door. If I'm upstairs & resting, or bathing, & the doorbell rings, I want to see who's there before I decide whether to go to the door. Kind of like caller ID.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Thanks for the picture. Shouldn't be too difficult to ID this person. If he is on the level and was working for a real estate appraisal firm or something along those lines, he should be able to clear the issue up quickly. Otherwise, the camera ruse was probably just that, a ruse to throw off neighbors who may have been suspicious about the activity. I would err on the side of caution and call the police anyway, if I saw someone trying to open my neighbors door. Surveillance cameras make good sense regardless.


Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Where can I buy one of these cameras? Thank you.


Like this comment
Posted by Kirstin
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm

@Kate. Check out the following:
molecamera.com
You can purchase the Mole at Costco.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I have security video cameras at various places around my house. They can be programmed to sense movement, and then take video so many seconds before and after the movement "event" and send that video to someplace safe. I thought it was a good idea because if a thief sees a video camera he might just steal your computer first to make sure he had the evidence. lf the data is shot off-premises to your Internet ISP it is safe and secure. Also, the file creation times of the video files will help corroborate the time and date in case the clock on your video camera was questioned.

There are programs that run on your computer that will sound an alarm using your computer's speakers, or that will email your email account of a pager and notify you that way. These have come a long way and the prices have dropped, although there are some units that are still very high priced - which tells me that buyers are unsophisticated and will fork out lots of money for someone equivalent they could buy right next to it, if they knew better.

You can see a lot of video equipment at Fry's, or you can search Amazon.Com for video security camera. Do some research, the prices and capabilities of these units vary widely. You can buy wired or wireless, video or video with audio too, you can get cameras that can connect to an internet network, or cameras that just connect to some kind of video recorder box that records multiple video streams.

Talk with someone who knows how to do this, one you have an idea what you want to do, it is quite easy to either build it or describe it well enough that someone else with some expertise can build it for you.


Like this comment
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Fry's too. I had a nice system for $150 with night vision where I used to live. I think I'm going to install one this weekend where I'm living now. I'm tired of being worried (even though I do have dogs).


Like this comment
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Something you should know about the lower end camera systems (under $200): If they are wireless, there can be interference from your cordless phones. Also, they sometimes bounce off metal stripping in carports, like in the older Eichler's. Also a problem for me, was having to purchase a small older TV at Goodwill with VHS taping capacity, since I wasn't set up wtih a more expensive way to record the 24/7 surveillance. Also, make sure they have night vision.

I am sure that some things have improved in the last two years, and anyone with good info on this subject....can you please post here?

One cautionary note, our cars were vandalized, and we set up a system and would watch diligently for about two weeks after the crime. We had a description of the person's vehicle which was most likely involved in what happened. One night, we saw a vehicle matching that description slowing, then stopping. A person got out, and started approaching the parked vehicles, holding something in his hand. We all ran out of the house screeching at the top of our lungs and waving our arms (we must have thought we were scaring off a mountain lion)....we scared the person so much he person dropped what he was holding...our pizza. We forgot we ordered pizza...so probably a good note of warning: watch first, react after thought.

Thanks.


Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

This story follows several daytime home burglaries in Old Palo Alto.
We have upgraded our alarm system and so did our neighbor this week.


Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I wish this story included the front profile of the man...it was a very clear photo. There is no good reason to be trying the door handle of a stranger's house.


Like this comment
Posted by Col
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 9, 2011 at 12:58 am

Surveillance cameras are fine, unless you have a nutty neighbor who points one at your front door to track your coming & going. Having lived this nightmare and having no legal recourse, I wish there were some limitations put in place...


Like this comment
Posted by PAneighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:41 am

Why are so people worried about the trespasser or door knocker's privacy?
A couple weeks ago, three burly gang looking types rang our doorbell over and over; we had put out the trashcans early so it looked like no one was home. After I answered they said wrong house, and went and hid in my neighbor's front porch (my neighbor later said he knew of no one with that description) then when I kept looking they all piled into a small car and sped away--note did not stop to look for the other house they were looking for. A few days later, another neighbor with the exact same make and model of our car, had his vehicle stolen mid day, and it was later found stripped in EPA.
Please people if it's not Halloween, nor your paperboy looking for a loose ball, not everyone knocking on your door is friendly. It's a bad economy and there have been several recent strongarm robberies in peoples driveways.
We are getting a spy camera, besides our dogs.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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