Crime & Courts

How to pick the right home security camera system

More Wichita residents are putting security cameras on their homes, according to Wichita Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Nikki Woodrow.

Here are six factors, according to Mike Green of Greenbuilt Security, to think about:

1. What kind of camera is best? Some cameras record events triggered by motion; others continually record.

The drawback with so-called event-driven cameras is they often get activated by storms or something harmless, so there can be a lot of false alarms, and the view is often limited to a certain zone within several feet of the camera. The recording time is also limited. Event-recording cameras are for places where the weather can’t trigger them and where the wrong person shouldn’t be – like in a garage, Green said.

The advantage of a continually recording camera is it can offer a wider view, so it can capture the burglar when he pulls up across the street a half block away and before he puts on his mask. You get more information with a continual recording, and it’s the kind that is helpful to police because, for example, it might provide a vehicle description.

The system isn’t so much designed to stop criminal activity as it is occurring as it is to record evidence that can be used to catch a serial burglar and bring him to justice. Still, the presence of live cameras or even dummy cameras can help to deter a thief who thinks he’s being recorded, Green said.

2. Crime-fighting benefit: Home security cameras have provided evidence in about three murders and one shooting by an officer in the past year or so, said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett. “That evidence can be very helpful in establishing identity, time frame.”

Even though security video might not provide the best quality image, “you’re certainly enhancing that opportunity” to capture evidence. “Every little thing counts,” Bennett said.

If you think you might have video showing even part of a crime at your house or in your neighborhood, call 911 and ask that an officer come out and view it, said Woodrow of the Police Department. “We’d rather have officers come out and look to see if it’s something rather than have somebody think it’s nothing and not call,” she said.

3. Covering all angles: On a square house, it could take eight cameras to cover all the angles. If someone tries to steal one camera, another camera catches them in the act.

4. Getting good images: Green recommends a higher-resolution camera with a good night-vision range.

5. Computer network: If your security system is tied into your internet service, it can slow down your home computer; a proper recording device won’t bog down your home computer.

“You really got to think things out,” Green said.

6. What to pay: You can get a camera for as little as $30, but “cheaper is not always better,” he said. For a quality, effective system, you’re going to spend about $400 per camera, with a total cost of $1,400 to $2,400 depending on the number of cameras, he said.

You can buy a system for maybe $600 at a store, but it might be inferior quality and might not be what you need, and it’s not easy to install, he said. “If you’re not a really good do-it-yourselfer, call somebody.”

Green says to beware of contracts with unnecessary charges that will cost you for years. Also, he said: “Beware of anything on the internet. … The biggest thing is service” – local access to someone who can repair or adjust your system.

Get two or three estimates; most companies give free bids. Don’t necessarily go with the cheapest or the most expensive.

Tim Potter: 316-268-6684, @terporter

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