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Sheriff’s Corner: Camera systems a good choice or home security

We are seeing cameras capture a wide variety of actions and are able to solve and prosecute more crimes, specifically property damage, burglary and theft, due to camera footage that is obtained.

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Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch

We frequently see and are asked questions about home security, specifically camera systems. As these systems become more affordable, offer more options and are easy for individuals, homeowners and business owners to install and maintain themselves, they become more popular and used in a variety of settings.

Property owners often ask us to investigate when they spot potential suspicious activity on their camera system. Many times these instances are investigated and found to be a neighbor, delivery person or service provider and not criminal in nature, but it gives property owners the ability to know what is happening at their property when they are away. It gives law enforcement the advantage of real time information if a crime is occurring. It may also allow for additional information to investigate if a crime did happen on the property or even in the area.

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We are seeing cameras capture a wide variety of actions and are able to solve and prosecute more crimes, specifically property damage, burglary and theft, due to camera footage that is obtained. Systems allow owners to quickly capture still images or video and then text or email it to us so that we are able to see exactly what occurred and what or who we need to be looking for.

There are many options for using these cameras and for connectivity and data sharing. “Wireless" refers to how a camera communicates, not how a camera is powered. Wireless cameras communicate over Wi-Fi, where wired cameras use wires to transmit their footage, usually to an onsite DVR or server system. Wireless cameras can be powered by AC power (such as a normal household outlet) or by batteries. When powered by batteries, a wireless camera becomes a wire-free camera.

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  • Wired: connected to a power source and an internet connection, if available, by cables. Often store images and video locally to a server or DVR on site.

  • Wireless: connected to the internet over Wi-Fi, connected to a power source by a cable. Stores data to the online “cloud” system with monthly or yearly subscription service.

  • Wire-free: wireless cameras connected to the internet over Wi-Fi and powered by batteries. These can also be connected to the internet or data service via cellular signal, such as Verizon or ATT. Also, stores data to the online “cloud” system with monthly or yearly subscription service.

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Wireless home security cameras generally store their footage on a cloud server, so you can access it from anywhere. Some also can store video on local media, such as a micro SD card in the camera. Wireless cameras are popular because they're easy to install and it’s simple to view their footage using a smartphone or computer.

Wireless security cameras generally record when they detect motion or sound, but some can be set to record 24/7 if plugged into power. They capture low to high-resolution video, depending on your Wi-Fi speed and system settings and can record at night if equipped with night vision. They also typically have two-way audio capabilities so you can talk to the person that the camera sees, or simply monitor the audio. Some models use technology that allows cameras to do useful things such as alert you when they detect a person or package.

Optional monthly fees are charged as a subscription service for wireless cameras. Most rely on cloud storage, which requires a subscription fee. Wireless cameras are only as good as your home Wi-Fi network. If your Wi-Fi is too slow or your camera is too far from your router, you may experience glitches, video lags and camera freezes. Poor Wi-Fi may even prevent access to a camera’s live view at times. It’s important to know that the quality of your video feed will fluctuate as your internet bandwidth does. Even if you have 1 GB of internet speed, Wi-Fi quality will fluctuate based on numerous environmental factors. For instance, video quality can be affected by how many of your neighbors are using the internet at a given time or radio interference from other wireless devices in your home. As a result, your 4K cameras may sometimes transmit in just 720p (not even full high definition) because there isn't enough bandwidth to provide higher quality video. It is recommended that you talk with your Internet Service Provider or do several speed checks prior to selecting a camera system.

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Wire-free cameras are very flexible in terms of placement, but you will need to connect them to a solar panel or remember to charge their batteries. Wire-free cameras also can't record 24/7 without draining their batteries quickly. Instead, they record in short bursts (10 seconds to five minutes, depending on the settings), which means you may miss key moments.

It is also important to know and understand that because wireless cameras connect directly to the internet and offer remote access they can be hacked, putting your privacy and security at risk, according to an October story in U.S. News and World Report.

These systems offer a variety of ways to monitor your home, property and/or business at all times, but especially when you may be away during the holiday season. While this isn’t a sales pitch for any particular brand, know that there are several brands and models available depending on your situation. There are also several local service providers that can install and maintain your system, if you need assistance.

All of us at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office would like to wish you very Merry Christmas and thank you for allowing us to serve you this past year. We want you to have a safe and happy Holiday season.

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If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.
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