Video alerts give Modesto, Calif. security officers an edge over criminals

Partnership between companies has resulted in nearly 50 citizen's arrests


Aug. 03--Ontel Security Services officer Evan Jacobs had just started his shift on the afternoon of April 13 when he got a phone call alerting him to an intruder at the the former Save Mart on Pelandale Avenue.

Within minutes, a 10-second video was sent to the computer in his patrol car. It showed Jacobs nearly live security footage of a man and woman, each on bicycles, circling the loading dock in the back of the business.

As he and his lieutenant drove from Ontel's downtown office to the vacant grocery store, more videos were sent to their computer. Jacobs watched as the couple got off their bikes, the woman poked around in a bag of recyclables in a trailer attached to one of the bikes and the man started using a crowbar to pry at a metal door.

When Jacobs and his lieutenant arrived on scene, they approached the loading dock from opposite directions and found the suspects walking away. But before the security officers even arrived they knew who they were looking for and what they were wearing.

The suspect, Westley Ray Douglas, protested when he was apprehended, saying they were merely searching the area for recyclables.

"I told him we have him on video with a crowbar trying to take off the door hinge," Jacobs said. "He was silent after that."

Ontel Security two years ago started partnering with Art Dunn, director of Art Dunn Alarm Co., to offer businesses, school districts, construction site contractors and private citizens this unique combination of immediate alerts, verification of a crime and armed response.

The partnership has resulted in nearly 50 citizen's arrests by Ontel officers in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, said Chief of Security David McCann.

"With regular security systems, you get crystal-clear video of whatever the bad guy is using to hide his face, two days after the fact," Dunn said. "Without that response, it's all irrelevant. The most information you can get to the first responder, that's what's important."

The role of private security in preventing property crimes and making arrests has increased over the past few years as police departments have reduced staff. Some departments have stopped responding to alarms without verification a crime occurred. Many in law enforcement familiar with the system used by Dunn and Ontel see it as a valuable tool in prevention, as well as prosecution.

Turlock and Modesto police stopped responding to home burglary alarms without an independent verification in 2005 and 2006, respectively, after studies found that about 99 percent of them were false due to operator error or equipment malfunction. Modesto dispatchers still advise officers of alarms, but they most often are too busy with other calls to respond.

The systems installed by Dunn, called Videofied, were designed by RSI Video Technologies to eliminate false alarms by using heat- and motion-sensor cameras, said sales representative Kent Brust.

The wireless devices communicate through a cellphone or Internet signal, and are battery operated so they can be placed in the middle of fields to protect farm equipment or construction at sites with no power.

Typically, the videos are sent to a central station, where an operator views them to determine if the alarm was activated by a bird landing near one of the cameras, a maintenance worker who has permission to be there or an intruder. If it's the latter, the operator will call police dispatch, which will send an officer to the scene.

The verified response heightens the call priority and generally decreases law enforcement's response time. In Brust's experience, a call that would otherwise have a response time of more than 30 minutes is reduced to fewer than 10 with the verified response.

"But law enforcement can't always get there on time," Dunn said. "It's just a property crime compared to everything else they have to respond to."

And "there is a delay. ... Adding another link to the communications chain, you are losing information," he said. "If you take a video and try to describe it to me over the radio, how much information is lost?"

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