BY Len Wells

Thanks to huge improvements in video surveillance technology, it’s getting harder and harder to be a criminal – and that’s a good thing. Just about anywhere you go these days, a camera is recording your every move.

Just the other day, a group of thieves broke into the Wonder Market in Norris City and looted the business. From the surveillance photos I saw posted on social media, it appeared the intruders were most interested in stealing cigarettes and really didn’t care if they left behind big mess. For the most part, the images were sharp and clear, which should lead authorities to the perpetrators fairly quickly. The suspects

appeared to be pretty young, which should narrow the suspect pool even further.

Some businesses make it very clear their property is under constant video surveillance. Wal-Mart is one of those businesses, but for whatever reason, shoplifters still try to swipe things without getting caught.

One of my favorite unsuccessful Wal-Mart shoplifters involved a guy who stuffed a half dozen T-bone steaks down the front of his pants and made a run for it. Fortunately, a store security guy saw what was going on and gave chase. Video surveillance confirmed everything.

Just last week, a co-worker’s car was broken into at a local motel. The whole thing was captured on the motel’s surveillance system. A quick review of the video revealed the suspect was a guest at the hotel, which then lead to a likely identification. Police gathered all the evidence and forwarded it to the State’s Attorney for review and likely the issuance of an arrest warrant. Had it not been for the video, the burglar would have simply checked out after his stay and went on his merry way.

A few weeks ago, a Southern Illinois motorcyclist ran a red light and was hit by a marked police car. The cop car’s dash camera caught everything. However, one witness came forward with a different story, claiming the cop was driving recklessly and caused the accident. To confirm the officer’s account of the crash, investigators went door to door reviewed surveillance video from surrounding homes and businesses. Turns out the so-called witnesses didn’t like cops, and embellished his account of the accident. Multiple surveillance videos from several angles confirmed the motorcyclist ran the light,

causing an unavoidable accident. Had the witness been correct, the same video surveillance images would have confirmed that as well.

Video surveillance has certainly proven its value in helping capture shoplifters, petty thieves and even porch pirates. The technology has also proven to be invaluable in solving even the most heinous crimes.

It was a surveillance camera at a truck stop in Nashville, Tennessee that ended the murderous career of suspected serial killer, Bruce D. Mendenhall of Albion.

It was a hot day in July, 2007 when a security guard at a truck stop in Nashville, Tennessee found the body of Sara Nicole Hulbert stuffed in a trash bin. One of the first things police did was review surveillance video from the station in an effort to identify their suspect or at least the suspect’s vehicle.

Homicide detective Pat Postiglione reviewed video from the station, and noted a particular semi near the dumpster at about the time the victim’s body would have been dumped. While doing a followup visit to the truck stop, Postiglione was shocked when a semi matching the one he saw on surveillance video pull onto the station parking lot. Postiglione and his partners calmly approached the truck, identified the driver as Bruce Mendenhall and saw what appeared to be blood on the driver’s side door. One question lead to another and in a matter of hours, investigators had cataloged nearly 300 items of evidence from Mendenhall’s truck that linked him to a string of homicides. The investigation that took down Mendenhall started with a simple video recording.

For better or worse, video surveillance is just about everywhere. It’s a safe bet that there will be more and more surveillance cameras installed – not less. Because I live out in the country and there have been a rash of burglaries recently, I installed a couple of Ring door bells. So far, I’ve only “caught” the UPS guy a few times and one Jehovah’s Witness.

I wish I had installed those Ring cameras sooner. If I had, I would have had a better shot at identifying the guy who showed up at my house around 10:30 one night asking permission to go into a small private cemetery across the road. “There’s supposed to be a guy buried over there that had enormous hands,” he said. “I just want to make a plaster cast to see just how big they were!” Fortunately he left when I told him I wasn’t the landowner. While I can still see his face in my mind, it sure would have been nice to have captured it on video...just in case.

In the immortal words of Hollywood producer Allen Funt - “Smile...you’re on Candid Camera”.