Wednesday, November 7, 2012 12:00 AM
Recently I wrote about the frustration of people vandalizing and stealing political yard signs. I mentioned it happens to me every election year and talked about how a campaign can use sign theft to create earned media and energize volunteers; it is particularly useful if you have video. Writing the column inspired me to purchase a home video security system.
It seems ridiculous. Invest in a home surveillance system to protect a $5 yard sign. But it is something I've considered for years. I live on a corner in my neighborhood that is highly trafficked and thought a security camera might be a service to neighbors as well: if a crime is committed and we need a description of the vehicle or a better idea of when a vehicle passed.
The Swann security system I purchased from Best Buy uses four cameras and records for 22 days before repeating. The footage streams real time to my I-Phone and I-Pad so when I'm out of town I can check on my house, see if my yard signs are still up, or watch the neighborhood cats stalk prey in the yard.
Yes, one of my signs was trashed again on Halloween night. Yes, I got footage. But that isn't the real story. Less than a week after installing the cameras, I was out of town and a man walked up my sidewalk and onto my porch and inspected my porch furniture. He walked back to his car parked in front of my house, pulled it over to the side, loaded my furniture into the trunk of his car and drove away. This was in broad daylight shortly before 1 p.m. in the afternoon.
That night a friend was driving by my house and his son pointed out my furniture was gone. He called me to let me know and went by the house to check the doors and windows to make sure the house was secure.
That would have been the end of the story except I caught the theft on video. I uploaded the footage of the crime to YouTube and called the Jackson Police Department. I gave the responding officer the link and a physical copy of the video. Then I shared the link with friends and neighbors in the Belhaven community where I live.
Live oaks and old magnolias shade the streets of Belhaven, the more than century old community near downtown Jackson. The neighborhood surrounds its namesake, Belhaven University, and is flanked by Millsaps College. Eudora Welty typed her stories up the street from my house; when Willie Morris came home from his birth at the hospital, his parents lived in a house where my house now stands. We show movies and play music in two parks that neighbors helped build and maintain. We have artists and writers and families and professionals. The neighborhood voted for John McCain with 53 percent over Barack Obama with 46 percent in 2008 - a difference of just over a hundred votes. Politics aside, we're a tight neighborhood and we look out for each other.
The video went micro-viral. Not viral in the sense of millions of views around the country, but friends and friends of friends posted it to Facebook and Twitter it generated thousands of views in the Belhaven and Fondren areas and local television and newspaper reporters joined in as well.
A few hours after posting the video, one neighbor recognized the man and his car as a person who cruises the neighborhood on trash day to pick up discarded furniture. Belhaven is great for that kind of activity and often college students will do the same to stock their dorm rooms or first apartment. You never know what you'll find: antiques, folk art, yard decorations. But the key is, that is the treasure that is another man's trash - not someone's property on their porch.
Within 15 hours of posting the video, a local business owner who deals in vintage furniture contacted me to say he recognized the man. He asked me to describe the furniture and sure enough, he had it. He said he would hold the furniture for me until I could come get it. He also provided me with the suspect's name and phone number which I promptly turned over to Jackson Police. They issued a warrant for his arrest. Other neighbors say he matches the description of someone who has stolen from them.
Social media works as a great tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, expanding business opportunities and networking, discussing and cussing politics; but this time, a community used it to solve a crime in fewer than 24 hours: crowdsourcing crime fighting.
So I'm not complaining about people ripping down my yard signs - not much. I'm optimistic about a neighborhood united against crime.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.