Friday, 1 Mar 2024

How smart doorbells are a tool helping police catch criminals

Smile, you’re on camera! How smart doorbells are becoming the latest tool helping police catch criminals and solve crimes – from brazen burglars to nightmare neighbours and even killers

In the dead of night, the peace of a quiet residential community in Brentford, is shattered by sounds of screaming as a furious man wielding a three foot sword tries to smash his way into a young family’s home.

Up-close and framed squarely, the full face of as Firas El Hejjaji can be seen on a doorbell camera as he hammers at the door with the weapon.

The same camera later captures the moment El Hejjaji was arrested by Essex Police, he would go on to be charged with criminal damage and fined £1,500 for his actions.

This successful conviction and others are thanks in part to a new home protection trend that has seen thousands of Brits turn to the small doorbell camera devices which can be easily bought online for as little as £59.99 to protect their homes. 

According to Donna Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire Police, the potential benefits of the technology when it comes to preventing criminal activities and then convicting culprits is endless.  

A young family were horrified when their doorbell captured their raging nextdoor neighbour wielding a three foot sword and trying to smash his way into their home

Firas El Hejjaji can be seen wandering outside the family’s home days before the attack

More than one in five households now have a doorbell with a camera, according to analysts at Consumer Intelligence, with the most well-known brand being Amazon’s Ring device.

These doorbells have revolutionised home security by letting occupants record and monitor who is outside their property and view it all from their phones, bringing a sense of security and relief to their owners.

And the trend to is now helping police catch criminals and solve crimes – from brazen burglars to nightmare neighbours and even killers.  

READ MORE: As delivery thefts soar, consumers are using doorbell cameras to fight back – with police planting ‘bait packages’ to track crooks

Speaking to MailOnline, Commissioner Jones of Hampshire Police stressed that the data captured by doorbell cameras could be used to great effect by authorities, leading to a decrease in criminal activity and an increase in conviction rates. 

She explained: ‘These kinds of devices definitely act as a deterrent.

‘I think Ring doorbells and other cameras put off criminals in the same way CCTV and alarms do. Criminals will often look for the path of least resistance and choose their targets. 

‘In Hampshire, we ran a campaign for residents to register their Ring doorbells with us so if there was an incident we could then go on to the database they hold and immediately find any evidence. 

‘This saves time for police forces and can help us track down suspects and speed up investigations. 

‘Burglary is a horrible crime, the safest kind of neighborhoods are where we tackle the root cause but these new devices definitely contribute towards creating a safer space for everyone.’

But, despite police forces like Hampshire and the Metropolitan Police confirming they use footage to assist in their lines of enquiry – there is a school of thought that the devices may not actually deter crime. 

Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire Donna Jones has been vocal in her support for the devices 

Doorbell cameras like ring can be used by police forces to help achieve convictions 

In a 2021 report, the Centre For Research And Evidence On Security Threats determined that by their own analysis there was ‘unlikely to be any significant effect on residential burglary through deploying smart home technology.’ 

In fact, the report concluded that the ‘affluence cues’ that owning the piece of tech could suggest to wannabee burglars that the property is worth targeting.

READ MORE: Moment Christmas Grinch is caught on CCTV stealing Boohoo package that Evri delivery driver had hidden under homeowner’s wheelie bin just moments before

Speaking to MailOnline, criminologist David Wilson argued that the mere presence of a doorbell camera was not enough to deter criminality and in some instances could actually act as a red flag to a bull. 

He explained: ‘Crime is never static and offenders are always responding to developments in the criminal justice system. 

‘If they see opportunities, they will use them. They don’t give up. They look for other ways to gain entry into a house.

‘In the same way you would never leave your BMW parked on a driveway as its an affluence cue, so too it’s possible burglars will see these cameras as an affluence cue and react accordingly.’

This was an eventuality that Islington based designer Zoe Lacey, 39, found out to her cost four years ago when her own doorbell camera picked up a flagrant home invasion. 

Speaking to MailOnline, the mother-of-one explained that despite the technology, she didn’t realise she had been robbed until days later.  

She explained: ‘I was in the house at the time and didn’t know I’d been burgled. My friend’s bike was in the house and when he came around to collect it I realised it was gone. 

‘I checked the footage and saw that while I was putting my son to bed someone had opened my front door and taken the bike.

‘I sent the police the footage but it was the most convoluted process and not easy at all.

‘They are just not set up to properly accept video submissions. They never caught the thief.

‘Now I think I’m probably safer with it. I imagine it is a deterrent. It has a lot of features that I find it very useful when I’m on holiday – however I still regularly have parcels stolen from outside my house by people wearing hoods.’

Former Royal Engineer Collin Reeves was captured on doorbell camera as he climbed into his neighbours house to murder them

Former Royal Engineer Collin Reeves used a ceremonial army knife to kill Stephen and Jennifer Chapple on November 21 last year

Jennifer and Stephen Chapple were stabbed to death in their living room as their two children slept upstairs

The jury were shown footage recorded on a Ring doorbell camera in May 2021 which showed Reeves confronting Mrs Chapple months before killing them  – and helped lead to his conviction

The cameras can also cause other problems for well meaning residents. 

Doorbells with cameras and microphones risk breaking data protection laws, as these can be so sensitive that they can film video and sound outside the boundary of the property.

That becomes a problem if it breaches a neighbour’s privacy, for example by recording into their home, or recording their children. 

READ MORE: Chilling moment ex-soldier scaled garden fence to stab his neighbours to death in their home using his ceremonial military dagger

But despite the risks, the benefits of the devices are obvious when it comes to conclusively solving crimes. 

Earlier this year, bungling burglar Sam Norman, 35, was convicted after a doorbell camera caught the moment his hood slipped, clearly revealing his face, when he attempted to rob a property in Worcestershire.

And last year, doorbell cameras caught the chilling moment a former commando scaled a fence and jumped into his neighbours’ back garden before entering their house and stabbing them both to death – in what prosecutors said was key to his conviction. 

Former Royal Engineer Collin Reeves used a ceremonial army knife to kill Stephen and Jennifer Chapple while they slept and was filmed using a compost bin in his garden as a makeshift ladder to climb over his neighbour’s fence and entered their house through the back door. 

Meanwhile, the appliances have also been used to prevent and convict less serious crimes like chip theft and ‘porch pirates’ – delivery drivers and passerbys who make off with parcels left outside homes. 

Earlier this month, a customer claimed that a delivery driver scoffed some of his chips before handing over his takeaway order – and he had the footage to prove it.

After ordering his food through Just Eat, Wayne Fry, 42, watched on his Ring doorbell as a worker arrived at his house in Weymouth, Dorset.

Video footage appears to show the delivery driver reaching into the bag and picking something up – and then moving his hand to his mouth. Mr Fry says he is convinced a few of his chips were taken.

Sam Norman, 35, (pictured) stared straight into the lens at the moment his hood slipped revealing his face in crystal-clear detail when he attempted to rob a property in Worcestershire – leading to his conviction 

Sam Norman, 35, was convicted after a doorbell camera caught the moment his hood slipped, clearly revealing his face, when he attempted to rob a property in Worcestershire

And despite not claiming that the devices will prevent crime, the general consensus across the UK’s police forces is that the doorbells have become a useful resource in getting crime conviction rates up. 

It’s now estimated that there is one doorbell camera for every 14 people in the UK providing authorities with further unconventional resources when combing through the surveillance records of an area where a crime has been committed. 

So useful do police forces see the technology when it comes to detection, some forces have begun to proactively train staff in how to abstract the data from them. 

Indeed, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police confirmed to MailOnline that officers ‘regularly recover and review doorbell footage as part of an investigation if it’s available.’

The video appears to show the delivery driver reaching into the bag and picking something up – and then moving his hand to his mouth

Meanwhile the National College of Policing has even implemented a Operation Modify training module that teaches prospective officers how best to use the footage captured by the doorbell cameras to secure convictions.

A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson said: ‘There are a number of incidents where video doorbell and dash cam footage has been used to detect offenders, including those involved in burglary.

‘While video doorbells can be helpful in both deterring and catching offenders, there are a few simple things you can do to help protect your home from burglary. These include keeping your windows closed and locked when your property is unattended.

‘Putting your lights on a timer or smart bulb and  double or deadlocking your doors. 

‘You could also put outside lights on a sensor and ensure hedges and trees are kept trimmed so as not to provide hiding places for burglars.

‘Keep an eye out for your neighbours and any suspicious activity in the local area.’

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