After our burglary last year I went a little nuts on the house camera system. After awhile it became clear that the building out of such an extensive surveillance system was probably done more as a hobby and frankly (and pathetically) no small degree of ego gratification since footage tends to equal great share content. It's hard to tell where my genuine appreciation for frustrating bad guys ends and my deplorable need for online attention begins though I imagine it's a pretty fuzzy one.
Burglar loots my room in May 2018. The recounting.
Creeper footage is not just great Facebook fodder though -- the potential of technology, and in particular off the shelf consumer technology, to combat crime problems once considered 'just the way things are' is a personal genuine fascination. 'Combating crime' is of course done on a number of different fronts starting most fundamentally with making sure civilizations have a robust and just social fabric that encourages empathy between humans, provides reasonable safety nets, authentically educates, and that they exhibit compassion throughout all of their institutions. This array is followed quickly by prevention techniques and then in some short order, effective control, penal, and rehabilitative measures.
We will have achieved utopia when the only crime left is that which is motivated by pure impulse or some degree of mental illness. And we will of course never reach utopia. The limitations of our human brains leaves this reality window open as an effective fact of life to criminals horrific and more benign, like creepers.
Creepers as I deem them are people who are grounded down so far in life that they take to preying on the unguarded by slinking about probing unlocked cars, garages, and yard gates for loose treasure or any measure of sustenance. My over-investment in cameras catch these people in action and it's incredible to see how far they will go and the risks that they take - to the extent that they consider what they do 'risky'. It seems that as home camera systems have begun to proliferat these folks have become somewhat ambivalent.
There seems to be good reason. Based on my own experience in all this, as well as on the postings of creeper videos by others in social media or within proprietary camera network (such as Ring's Neighbors app), some things have become apparent.
First, it's amazing to me how having a real-time eye on places using all this great technology rarely translates into an intercept or in-time capture of various perpetrators (like this rare exception which is awesome). I am not sure I have a good understanding of why just yet but it seems to boil down the simple fact that while our cameras can be 24/7, our attention kept in sync with them, cannot be. The burglar in my apartment last year rummaged almost 20 minutes in clear view of my camera and was not challenged the least by it, tangibly or even psychologically. As I toiled away at work, my camera app tried to notify me, repeatedly, but I didn't notice.
Other people consistently and almost exclusively post video in social media of porch pirate and other illicit activity, but it's always video after the fact by hours or even days.
So bad guys are learning that no matter what they do in front of the camera's eye, the chances of a homeowner bounding out with a shotgun are probably nil. The same goes for anyone part of a social media group. Hundreds of people can be notified but the chances of certain confrontation are still low enough to mute the creeper's concern.
It's one thing to not always be ready for intercept; most of us are not poised to attack criminals all day long after all. People kind of 'get' that camera systems exist just as much, if not more in reason, to document evidence of a crime, not trigger an instant armed response. But even on this point the cameras are not particularly aggravating to swines.
At least for the 'creeper' ilk, where clear criminal intent exists but no (serious) criminal event actually winds up taking place, it seems that law enforcement attention is practically non-existent. Again in my personal experience, but also by an observed lack of engagement by police or others in the online forums where these things get posted. One may have the idea that police would take a keen interest in any video showing someone prowling about and that they would breathlessly integrate those postings into their daily patrol efforts. But if they are they aren't telling.
So, bad guys in this era of the constant eye are learning that even as an erection of some giant red flag about their existence, it's a flag that will be ignored. All this means that at the end of the day we have non-confrontation and lack of follow up in their favor. Cameras be damned.
I am of course guilty of daring to muse about all of this with no clear solution to propose. Creepers are a dime a dozen, rarely impact anything seriously aside from an intangible sense of safety perhaps, and police and for that matter the time in the lives of ordinary people, are too strapped to take every creep action as seriously as this blog post sort of asserts.
Even so, I still find it incredible that as a society we now have the means to build a literal video database of inclined behavior, yet we seem uninterested in doing anything with it other than gaff over the audacity of certain people's behavior in social media.
I spent about two hours with my Pixel 2 and VideoPad Professional tonight to make this video sketch. It's a little crude I'll give you but don't give me too much grief as it is my first time doing anything more complex than encoding a single video clip.
Hint: You may want to play this away from any Google or Alexa device in your home.
I figured the snowstorm scheduled to hit Buffalo today would be the most interesting event. Instead, an underground transformer fire just outside my house by one block put me in ground footage mode for Buffalo Scan. Here are the raw videos from the Periscope footage.
The fire apparently caused a power outage for some 800 residents on the Parkside half of the event (I live on the opposite side), and, at the beginning, even resulted in some evacuations of the immediate homes. I tuned in just as the fire crews were requesting National Grid and Buffalo Police for street closure control.
Ground footage of emergency response handling to
underground transformer fire on Amherst Street.
Fire on Richlawn
No sooner had I clamped the snow off my shoes after shooting the ground footage above, a fire broke out at a home on Richlawn Avenue. The street was close enough for me to jaunt to without much hassle, so I did. It took almost 15 minutes to get the car warmed and cleaned up enough to safely drive over, so the fire was knocked out by the time arrived.
Fire knocked out on Richlawn Avenue. No sound.
This video doesn't include sound due to a Periscope malfunction of some kind. But it's just as well. A woman skirted by to get closer to the fire but hurled an epithet at me in apparent disgust of someone filming the fire, in the process. I think this is the first time I've been admonished by a random member of the public (a police officer once guilted me for filming a patient being loaded into an ambulance), but, my stance on this remains. Some people are going to gawk at a non-media professional engaging in media collection events as they are unfamiliar with the emerging culture of ground footage 'buffs' or enthusiasts, and assume the act is as frivolous as it must look.
Just a cat crawling up my coat. I've been trying to get this on camera for awhile.
Misty jaunts up the coat.
Actually the cat is one of two I share with my roommate (who, technically, owns both). Both cats, Misty and Mochi, were featured last year on America's Funniest Home Videos. I posted the clip of that to social media once but will make a point to do the same here at this blog.
Misty is exceptional and very much like a dog in terms of personality and intelligence. She's extremely "trainable" because she is so receptive to reward systems. We can communicate with her verbally very effectively. She's also got a plethora of compulsions; things and rituals she needs or has to do or she can't settle down. As cats go, she's extremely vocal when she's anxious.
What a Christmas Sunday. Last night two Buffalo Police Department SUVs roared up Amherst Street on the left of our house with lights and sirens. I went to the police scanner but didn't tune in in time to hear what it was all about. Normally I'd be glued to the receiver waiting for something to tell me what was so dramatic but as it was we were decorating the tree and doing other festive stuff so I couldn't linger.
Some time later, maybe an hour or so, I notice a Facebook ping to a neighborhood group that I belong to. Someone was reporting that police and an ambulance were convening on Vernon Place, just up the street and around the corner. The same posters began to detail a grim series of details that culminated in the report of a murder. According to the poster, a man had just killed his mother.
There wasn't -- and at this time even, a full 10+ hours later, still isn't -- any confirmation of that. But the reported details were telling and one of the posters happened to be extremely well sourced. Unless five neighbors decided to get together and paint the picture of a non-existent murder for benefit of hoax, which of course is highly unlikely, someone did in fact get killed.
The hesitation in the media could be due to the timing around the Christmas holidays, although, since then, at least one other murder in South Buffalo has made the news...one that occurred many hours after this supposed one. That leads me to wonder if the police still haven't figured out exactly what happened. Maybe someone died but it wasn't a murder?
In any event I was compelled to break the story first as part of my Buffalo Scan initiative. You can see the Periscope broadcast above. In it I avoid giving out virtually any details as I have heard them to be from the Facebook postings because, well, Facebook conjecture. Whatever we eventually learn, no matter how actually a murder it was or not, it is certain something dramatic happened. Police tape is strung up around the entire area, and car traffic was blocked from using the street for over 3 hours.
Even now I will not put out all the information as I know it to be circulating. However I believe I know the names of the victim, the suspect, and the actual house address. And from all this, I understand it to be a tragedy that shouldn't happen ever, let alone over Christmas.
I will update this specific entry when (and if?) there are any updates as to exactly what happened.
It's rare to get the whole enchilada on video like this. Not only does the Ring camera catch the prowling, someone edited in footage of the police intercept.
You might wonder, what do cops think about all these cameras? Most probably assume that they are excited about them because it helps identify perpetrators of crimes.
I myself, however, have always held the idea that they are actually nervous. Nervous about the influx of incoming calls to address creepers and porch pirates which, unfortunately, abound, and probably far exceed any one police department's surface response capabilities to such activity reported en masse. And, nervous about the plethora of other reasons, all covered fairly well in this Detroit Free Press article (warning: uncomfortable desktop web presentation).
Policing has always coped to some degree by selective attention that aligns with current resources. Cheap consumer cameras disrupt that order by exposing everything. As I know all too personally, people naturally expect that if clear images of bad guys are in hand, that police should be able to zero in on suspects immediately. Should be able to immediately canvas neighborhoods and possibly spot them still exiting communities (as happens to be the case in this video). And yet, the reality of resources is what it is.
My solution has been to create another path for the accumulation and presentation of such footage. Something that does not equal a mandate for police to exert, yet, at the same time, hones in commuity focus on bad actors whether they are criminally charged or not. That "solution" is the Crime Footage Index project which is an open web example of what many feel might just be another venue along with social media channels to show off footage from home "Ring-like" camera systems (I myself use Arlo).
The Tampa Historic Streetcar Board met on the 20th and the bulk of this meeting was a stand up report by HART Interim Director Jeff Seward regarding the stunning development that the Teco Line Streetcar would be fare-free for a whopping three years.
Here's the video embed of that meeting that starts with Seward's presentation.
Jeff Seward explains to the Tampa Historic Streetcar Board
the details of the streetcar system's upcoming 3 year
The free-fare period will likely begin in October of this year and is possible through a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) grant aimed at, among other things, exposing user preference for the streetcar and setting up for a more solid argument toward the development of a modern system similar to one already operating in Kansas City.
Seward is careful to pause over the point that the grant had to be, and, obviously was, approved by Florida Governor Rick Scott.
So, this is the second time this week that we are hearing about Rick Scott's sudden involvement in turning Tampa into a transit rail town. First with a push to put a high(er) speed commuter rail system in the city, and now with a grant that will almost certainly prove a point that will then lead to Tampa's own "light" light rail system in the form of a modern streetcar. If this strange twist of pattern continues, I am going to believe it completely possible to find Scott showing up in Tampa to build a rail system himself.
Yeah it's gotta be politics. Scott wants to be a Senator or something, or maybe President (which makes him the sane choice if it ever comes down to him or Trump). Or, more positively speaking, it may be a legitimate recognition that with the eastern half of Florida well on its way, it's time to finally balance the State's investment in transportation choice by finally, finally , paying attention to the western half. All of this bodes extremely well, suddenly, for Tampa commuter rail and light rail.
The free-fare period is a ... "fair" ... way to ask the question of whether or not people are willing to use the system for serious transportation, given both economic and physical friction-free access to it. The fares aren't just going away, so is the entire fare process and even the onboard fare equipment . As near as I can tell that will make the system a simple "step aboard" one, from the designated stops of course.
It's important research because indeed, modern streetcar systems are volatile. Ft. Lauderdale's planned system has been stopped (there was a limit on how much they were willing to spend for it and the cost estimates began exceeding that) and in Atlanta, who went from free to charging $1.00 on its system, is now struggling with ridership big time (loosely analyzed, the line is too short and operates in mixed traffic -- Tampa's system does not). Therefore a demonstration on solid footing will be sure to put any future Tampa system on par with the successes such as Portland or Kansas City.
Here's the YouTube of a presentation given to the Tampa Historic Streetcar board about a month ago regarding the streetcar modernization and expansion project. The full video of that meeting is posted here but my embed below cuts straight to the part to the presentation itself.
Steve Schucraft provides update on status of
the streetcar expansion/modernization effort.
Don't be a slouch, watch the whole thing. But if you're in a hurry -- these things stuck out to me:
Phase I is complete, they've submitted a letter to the FTA for entry into project development (which is apparently to say, they formally put the evolving concept on their official may-one-day-be-funded-by-them radar - they hope to receive a letter in return that says the FTA recognizes the effort)
The study focuses exclusively on a one-seat ride from end to end. This means that the study does not take into consideration the possibility of mixing the current heritage streetcars with modern ones (an idea I personally liked, but, now that I understand that it might split rides between vehicles, gives me pause for obvious reasons)
An extension would serve an additional 5,500 residents and 16,000 jobs over the existing nostalgia system.
Click on image for larger viewable detail.
The prospects of an extension and modernization are exciting for Tampa, particularly those who live in the core. It is good to see both fronts being taken so seriously and with apparent stride.
One of the presumed forerunner projects that this website highlights is the Lackawanna Cut-Off Restoration Project. That's because it is the most "actualized" of all the other possibilities I might otherwise mention. Unlike high speed rail, the hyperloop, or light rail connecting Hazleton and Scranton, there's actual work, actual track being laid in New Jersey for this project. If the momentum picks up steam that will eventually mean actual track being laid in Pennsylvania -- first in the Poconos followed at some point thereafter by Scranton. And then yes, Wilkes-Barre.
Get to know the Lackawanna Cut-Off thanks to the work of Chuck Walsh.
But what do we really know about the original Lackawanna Cut-Off? It was the defining rail link between New Jersey and - believe it or not - Buffalo, New York, my current home city. Scranton was a stop in between. I actually find it kind of poetic that three of the places I have lived in my lifetime have been accessible by this single line (technically I lived in New York, not New Jersey, but I won't quibble. If this line existed as-is today I'd be able to travel by train to three of my favorite places on the planet right now).
There's a trove of web information on the line if you want to go look for it. This blog isn't based on expert knowledge and doesn't pontificate from that position. Quite the opposite, it is an evolving conversation on what I'm learning as I go . Questions and inaccuracies all.
However, the richest resource I think you'll find today is a YouTube documentary posted by Chuck Walsh approximately one year ago. Walsh is the president of the North Jersey Rail Commuter Association and an enthusiastic advocate for the project. He apparently put the time and gas into composing a 15 video tour of the line as it exists today, visiting key stops and points of interest, often with stories and recollections drawn right from his head of accrued knowledge and experience.
This is the best way right now to "walk" the line into NEPA along with Walsh acting as tour guide and narrator along the way.
First video in a series of 15.
The zero-budget production is raw and maybe a little dry to the non-enthusiast, but it is authentic and I might add, what YouTube is best used for which is the independent presentation of a niche but important subject matter to the thousands who are interested. There is not a TV station or a newspaper that could cover this line to such depth.
If you want to better understand the past to understand the future, this is a great way for the readers of this blog to spend a coffee Saturday afternoon.