Using YouTube to bust burglars

A few hours after six suspects broke into a Fayette County gun shop early Wednesday morning and stole about 80 weapons, their heist was on the Internet as a YouTube video.

The video is grainy, and the action is speeded up so that the thieves seem to sweep in and clean out the place in about 15 seconds as the room fills with smoke from a gas grenade set off by the store alarm.

As of Friday afternoon, about 3,800 people around the world had watched the video on YouTube.com. So far, though, the clip had generated no tips from the public, said Lt. Belinda McCastle, spokeswoman for the Fayette County sheriff.

Still, the video moved metro Atlanta law enforcement maybe a little closer to the cutting edge. Police departments in Canada, Florida and Massachusetts have also previously posted crime videos on YouTube.

Police say it's a quick way to distribute surveillance videos to the media and other law enforcement agencies and reach the public through an increasingly popular medium.

Josh Shelton, the Fayette detective who uploaded the surveillance video from the break-in at Autrey's Armory on Bethea Road, said the idea was a natural.

"I'm the department's computer forensic investigator, and I'm a big fan of getting information out there quickly," Shelton said Friday. "Originally, my plan was to call other agencies, but then I thought of YouTube."

There was another reason. The quality of still images taken from the video was so poor, it's hard to make out facial features.

"So I wanted to show the video because I thought people might recognize the way somebody moves or a body type," Shelton said.

The burglars broke in around 4 a.m., and Shelton had the video by 5 a.m.

He named "Autrey's Armory," appended a number to call (770-716-4777), added search words that would lead browsers to the clip --- robbery, burglary, gun, store, theft, range, crime, police, sheriff, glock, sig, sauer --- and had it on YouTube by 9 a.m.

By YouTube standards, the video is hardly a hit.

"Is Europe a country?" a video from the TV show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" has more than 3 million hits.

Shelton said that's fine by him. "Any lead we get from this will be good. Be sure to put in your story that we increased the reward from $1,000 to $2,500."


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