Evidence on tape? The FBI wants your help



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Posted on May 17, 2010 at 10:58 PM

When a crime happens these days, it’s often caught on camera. As good as this evidence is, it usually could be better. Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a photography lesson of sorts to anyone who wants it.

The FBI has produced a new video to show citizens and businesses how to make better, more effective use of their security cameras.

The so-called "Nomad Bandit" highlighted the problem. He robbed 16 Northwest banks, with no fear of the state-of-the art camera systems in each. He simply pulled a baseball cap down over his face.

"You can't see the guy's face. All you see is the top of a baseball cap," said Seattle FBI agent Larry Carr, who chased the Nomad Bandit for 10 months.

“Not even his own mother could turn him in if she wanted to," said Carr as he looks at bank surveillance photos that missed pictures of the man's face.

Many criminals play starring roles in security camera movies that are flops, according to crime fighters turned film critics.

Agents say the problem isn’t the quality of the video. Good camera systems are affordable these days. The problem is operator error.

So the FBI made a video of its own for all those well-intentioned security camera owners out there. The 20-minute DVD includes simple tips they can use to protect their property and perhaps catch a terrorist to boot.

Law enforcement’s top complaint revolves around ceiling mounted cameras. They’re convenient and they have sweeping views, but they don’t show faces clearly. A strategically-placed eye-level camera gives the money shot, a recognizable face.

"It's a simple, easy fix,” said Carr. “It's not spending more money. It's taking a screwdriver and lowering the camera and screwing it in at a different location. That's it. That's all we're asking people to do."

It isn't just for law enforcement's benefit. When an early morning fire tore through Emory's restaurant last winter, investigators quickly called it arson.

"In an arson fire, the owner is always the first suspect," laments the restaurant’s owner, Emory Cole.

Cole shed that shadow of suspicion when police investigators pulled some images from his security system's burned out hard-drive. The video was just good enough that Everett police used it to arrest a 16-year-old suspect.

This summer Emory's will be re-built with an even better, professionally installed, camera system.

“The fact they were able to get those images, it paid for those cameras 10 times over," said Cole.

A camera, not in the ceiling, but on the counter at a Wells Fargo bank, ended the Nomad Bandit's spree. It showed a clear shot of his face and days later the FBI got their man.

Because of the Nomad case the FBI says Seattle banks have re-positioned their security cameras. Now agents hope they can convince more businesses and citizens to do the same.

More information

Watch the FBI video here

Order the video here