Mark Frauenfelder at 9:51 am Wed, Nov 16, 2011
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[Video Link] A woman who installed web-enabled security cameras in her house was watching the video feed while at work and discovered a pair of burglars stealing her son's Wii gear. The video includes the 911 call recording.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His latest book is Made by Hand: My Adventures in the World of DIY
The anxiety of unplugging and why we should disconnect to connect
Suspicionless searches at US border: the next battleground for press freedom
-1 for those dogs
Back when I was young, burglars had a sense of urgency when they were ransacking someones house. Or at least that’s how I pictured it in my head.
Yes, that is always the case when one watches reruns of Baretta or Cagney & Lacey.
“…there’s a black man in my house…”
I think she’s racist. She wouldn’t have minded if it was a white man stealing her stuff.
How do you know she was not black herself? You never see her picture.
Kind of a stupid comment; it so happens that she is black too.
You’re right, it would be an incredibly stupid comment, if it was meant sincerely rather than as a response to jaypee.
Because giving a physical description of someone robbing your house is a bad idea?
Yikes. I dare you to come up with a single other identifying characteristic besides male and black that we’d all agree on. Remember, she did go on to describe their clothing, although not very well–if she weren’t freaking out about being robbed she would have realized that a description of their mostly black clothing was more useful than mentioning a white shirt.
You could watch it a dozen times, freeze-framing the clearest parts, safe in the knowledge that you weren’t being robbed, and still know nothing more than black and male, and somewhere between puberty and middle age.
Was the first guy 5’9″ or 5’11″? Could you even tell from that angle if either one was taller or shorter than average? Would you swear he wasn’t 16, or 35? How many scars or tattoos could you make out? Does the man not wearing a hood have short hair, a shaved head, or is he wearing a close-fitting cap? If your life depended on it, would you recognize either man if you passed him on the street, just from this?
Kneejerk accusations (or implications) of racism enable actual racism, but more than that they’re smarmy as hell–and they reek of projection. If you’re actually bothered by this, you’re bothered by her inability to be utterly race-blind to her core–literally incapable of perceiving any possible relevance to his race in this or any other context, which is so absurd that it’s a running joke for Stephen Colbert. Who, of course, uses it to send up his character’s overt racism. (“I don’t see race–people tell me I’m white, and I believe them, but…”)
Or are we supposed to believe you would have said, “My house is being robbed by what appears outwardly to be a gender-normative male. With respect to his appearance, race is largely a matter of social construction independent of biology and I’d want to be sure that all parties had roughly commensurable frameworks of understanding before turning to the question of which actant’s categories are appropriate to apply here.”
Heh. I just think it’s funny that those were almost the first words out of her mouth and wasn’t attempting any commentary one way or another.
I wish I had a transcript of the last time I called 911. Three people were breaking into a car in the lot next to my apartment. I told the dispatcher the location and what was going on. She asked for a description. I started, “The first gentleman is a heavyset African American” then paused and said, “Well, he’s probably not a gentleman.”
Though maybe he was. I didn’t wait to see if he held the car door open for the guy with the screwdriver.
The cops never came.
Gentleman Bandit 1, Justice 0.
Sounds bad but the awful truth is that’s how law enforcement agencies relay information among themselves too.
I agree, she went right to the color of his skin without any other description whatsoever. She never mentions that he has a long white t-shirt, said t-shirt extends past the dark graphic hoodie he has on, blue jeans sagged, tennis shoes, close cropped hair, his race is black, appears to be late teens early twenties etc. etc.
Instead There is a BLACK man in my HOUSE! and my poor, poor, poor cat is pissing all over itself! Save my cat!
“I agree, she went right to the color of his skin without any other description whatsoever.”
That’s not true. She also said he was a man. Sexist!
That shows me. ;-)
“…there’s a black man in my house…”
Incorrect, there were actually 2 black men in her house.
Not only is she a racist, but clearly she suffers from double vision!
… um… or whatever the opposite of that would be.
Wow, that was awesome. That poor lady, she’s been robbed before and that’s why she has the video camera. The blow-by-blow being finalized with the officers coming in the door and capturing the bad guys really makes the grade.
Now if only we had more of this sort of unambiguously excellent work and the actual job of the police to reflect upon rather than what’s happening with riot gear and CS gas at the OWS protests. I’d be a lot happier with the state of our police forces.
I’m going to go ahead and ask the obvious — why is this woman shocked to see burglars in her house, when she had installed web-enabled security cameras? She keeps saying “this is unbelievable?” She must have thought being robbed was possible at some point.
Because people are at their most logical when they’re watching their belongings getting burgled.
She says in the video that her home has been robbed before which is why she installed the cameras. But I imagine it’s still very unsettling to watch strangers who you know have bad intent walking around in your home while you’re across town and powerless to do anything other than wait for the police to appear.
Getting robbed isn’t just about someone taking your stuff. The sense of violation is what really sucks about it.
Have you ever been robbed or assaulted? No preparations can change your primal “Oh shit! I am being violated!” instincts. Part of the reason I actually respect cops & soldiers when they truly do their jobs is they are trained—and that is basically the main training they do—to control their instincts and learn how to control a situation without it getting out of hand. That is a skill that can wreck your stomach and mind if you are not strong enough.
Have you ever been robbed or assaulted? No preparations can change your primal “Oh shit! I am being violated!” instincts.
Actually, with PTSD, you can skip the shock and go directly to the fight-or-flight.
In answer to your question – yes.
If I had been robbed, what I would want back more than my possessions, would be some newer, wiser version of my peace of mind. I would do everything in my power to prevent being robbed again, and then move on. It didn’t make sense to me for her to put in a camera she would then have to watch, rather than eliminating the doggie door. That was like leaving the window open. Watching the camera from work would just extend her sense of having been victimized by the neccessity of constant vigilance. Like she was constantly looking over her shoulder. She hoped there was nothing there to see, but installed the camera and kept looking… just in case.
What we hear in the recording is not her anxiety at being robbed. It’s her continuous anxiety confirmed, in that she put in a camera instead of plugging the holes in her house. So I was surprised she was surprised. For those us who have truely been victimized and assaulted, we harbor no illusions that lightning can’t strike twice in the same place.
Horsefeathers. Why are you and others upset over this woman being upset? What is it your business how someone expresses/feelings their emotions and why do you see repression of emotions/feelings as “superior.”
I love how she continued to update the operator on the actions and emotional status of her pets.
But it was satisfying to see the crooks get nabbed.
“I’m going to go ahead and ask the obvious — why is this woman shocked to see burglars in her house, when she had installed web-enabled security cameras? ”
More than that, why is she shocked when she had a dog-door big enough for people to get through?
That’s frickin’ unbelievable. I was worried they were going to hurt her pets.
I was thinking it takes her a pretty long time to mention there is a second person in the house… Also she says that they have “things in their hands,” which I think would sound like weapons if I was a police officer. She describes the first guy as wearing a “white shirt” when he’s wearing mostly black.
It’s nice that the dispatcher tries to calm her down.
I used to take 911 calls as a dispatcher.
Callers are frantic and can’t think in the moment of the important details that they need to provide. A good call-taker will try to control the conversation to get the most important information, but they’re also multitasking typing out what the person is saying to provide to the dispatcher as well as looking up addresses, etc, so sometimes the person on the phone will just keep talking while the call-taker is making sure the essential info is available to those who need it.
If the only useful description she can think of giving to the dispatcher is the one word, “black” (at least until prompted for more, later in the call), then yes, it’s racism. To demonstrate this, imagine the burglar was white. Would she have started off the conversation with “There’s a white man in my house…”? Almost certainly not. So the fact that he’s not the same race as her is, to her, the most salient thing to mention at the start of the call.
Now, that’s not the same as saying this an evil kind of racism, as opposed to just the subtle every day tendency we have, of labelling people who look different from us by racial group they appear to come from. But you can’t argue there’s no racism in her particular choice of words.
Just to play devil’s advocate: I don’t know where she lives and what the default skin color is there. Maybe her description actually _was_ useful to describe somebody quick?
‘…”There’s a white man in my house…”? Almost certainly not.’
She would have if she herself was black. When asked for a description of somebody while being under pressure we tend to point out the differences first. If you always dress in Armani suits and the guy you’re supposed to describe wears the same then you are less likely to point out that fact than if you are a jeans-and-sneakers kind of guy. I don’t think this is in and of itself *any* indication of racism.
You have to be on the hunt for some lulz.
What you wrote is very dumb.
Someone’s race / ethnicity is their primary visual identifying characteristic.
If you call 911 and say a crime is in progress, if you don’t mention the race of the suspects that is one of the first questions the dispatcher will ask. No one wants a tall black man with red hoody and black jeans arrested because the police didn’t know the real suspect is a tall white man with a red hoody and black jeans, or vice versa.
…Later that day the homeowner was booked for illegally filming police officers when they entered her home…
Poor show, dogs!
It’s nice to see things work like they’re supposed to.
“…the cat is freaking out.”
This video just made my day. There are only a few things I like more than watching robbers get busted in the action.
Others would include them going to jail and getting backsides handed to them by their victims.
Hopefully 1 out of these 2 will soon follow.
I hope my dogs would do exactly this if confronted by strangers during the daytime (and home alone): run and hide. So +10 for the dogs! (And hugs to that ballsy cat.)
Seriously, do you want your dogs confronting them, only to be harmed?
Dogs are funny animals. My dad is an EMT and he was once charged by a very large, very agitated German Shepard, one that could have taken him down or killed him pretty easily. If he’d run, that’s what it would have done. Instead he gave the dog a big friendly hello and basically gave it a hug. In other words, he acted like he belonged there, and the dog instantly decided he was a friend. Started wagging its tail, licking him, etc. Now, given, he’s worked with shepards for several decades now so I don’t imagine everyone can pull that off, but still, this kind of thing can end many different ways.
Was the tape edited at all? Because a 3 minute police response time seems really good. And not simply a single vehicle, but enough units to surround the place. Well done.
Well, she called from work and never audibly gave her address, so either it’s edited or the police know all/see all. In that case, she didn’t really need to notify them, and it explains the 3 minute response time. It’s your call.
But I’m most concerned about the “…watching the video feed while at work…” part. Sure, maybe cameras are motion-activated & notify her when something moves, but two or more dogs in a house means that thing’s going off all day. If watching this video counts as “working,” I could take that job and the salary that goes with it (enough to afford a Wii/large TV/apparently decent quarters).
And here I thought we had extraordinary unemployment, with a sizeable backlog of “overqualified” applicants who are more than willing to jobs like hers more efficiently for same or less pay. (More efficient = not staring at CCTV feed of their precious kittens all day).
Re: racism/terrible descriptions of suspects… The tape is obviously edited. I’m not judging either way, but if I were throwing this video together, I would much rather include tidbits about how scared her cat is instead of the banal (and usually useless… “so the second man is heavy-set?” Asks the operator at one point to confirm a mis-hearing) descriptions of suspects we can plainly see. It makes for a more entertaining video this way.
Re: Re: racism… I’d like to see more of you, when giving descriptions of suspects, supply more useful details in the following manner: “Oh no! There’s a man in my house! … Well, he’s Mormon (Muslim/Episcopalian/etc), drank Ovaltine with dinner, and sometimes wears yellow … No, he’s not wearing yellow now, I think he wore yellow last Thursday.” “Ma’am, do you know the intruder?” “No, but I figured if I said he was a fat Chinese guy in a white tank-top you would call me racist.”
Could she have done better? Surely. Is the operator going to press her for details once the operator understands that the police will eventually see the same video she saw? Maybe not. Let’s skip the racism stuff for now and focus on small dogs and their primary life goals.
The video quality is predictably horrible.
TV crime show: “OK … bring up the video of the suspect … freeze it there … enhance … zoom in … OK, close in on his hand … that thumbnail looks chewed, feed that to the computer and see if you can 3D-rotate the bite pattern and get a match against dental records … now let’s get a look at the wear patterns on his pants … hmm, program tells me he spends a lot of time sitting in a ’96 Acura … hand shows callousing consistent with extensive use of an XBox controller … cross-ref for XBox owning Acura drivers … now, let’s see if we can shrink our shortlist a bit further by taking a close-up look at those pollen grains on his sweatshirt … really? That’s our guy, then.”
Reality: “It’s a man. At least, I think it’s a man. It’s a sort of dark blob. I think he’s probably black, but he could just be wearing dark clothing. He’s not a naked white guy, anyway. I think. Just one head, two legs, two arms. Probably. I can’t swear to that. It looked like he had two heads for a moment there. And he’s either really fat or … no, he just turned around, now he looks sort of anorexic. He’s probably about 17. Or maybe in his early eighties. He’s bald. No, no, he’s got waist-length dreadlocks. If it is a ‘he’. Yeah, you’re right, it could be a bear. I’m just gonna keep watching. If he takes the DVD player, he’s probably a man. If he sticks his head in the kitchen trash and starts rooting around, I’ll have to go with ‘bear’.”
Apparently not all cops are at the OWS encampments…
This is the kind of stuff that cops do all the time except the media prefers to show people getting maced at protest rallies.
My dogs would have been barking like crazy and most burglars skip houses with dogs barking.
Note to self, add a visible height marker to wall within view of web-camera.
You don’t even need to have a wall height marker, just have a bookshelf and know how tall the various shelves are. That should give you a good 4-5 inch range you can use as a general guide.
finally, it’s nice to actually see some videos of police doing their jobs and not brutalising the public!!!
If you have ever listened to police radio (hopefully not from the back seat), they always describe people by race, gender, body type, and clothing. If she hadn’t given that description, they would have likely asked her. Plus, I’ve been around a good bit of cultural insensitivity, and can say her comment is pretty friggin’ far from racist. Would she say, “there’s a white person in my house”? Likely not, but I think about anybody who saw somebody from a different ethnic group than themselves breaking into their house would likely describe the offender by race. I also suspect this might vary by region. It would make an interesting social study.
And if you like police radio, check out radioReference.com. Feeds from all over.
I love the judgements that she’s a racist based purely on this three minute call.
Most squares are not used to dealing with something like this. She did pretty good considering.
I’m amazed the cops got there in time. They must have loved that. Catching someone in the act is so hit and miss, mostly miss. So when you do catch someone red-handed it’s pretty sweet.
Sure have your little dogs but you need at least one kick butt dog.
Old video. I am pretty sure I saw this at least a couple of years ago.
I love how people automatically jump to the “race card”. The sad truth is, many towns and cities remain segregated. I suspect more from her response that her neighborhood doesn’t have African Americans regularly visiting its streets. If that is the case then saying “there’s a black man in my house” is a very valid response. My point is, the people who cry “racism” based on their own assumptions instead of evidence are acting in a prejudice manner themselves.
*This* is what cops should be doing. It’s awesome to see cops doing an excellent job instead of beating up OWS for a change. This makes me happy.
Not that I don’t sympathize with the woman who house was being burgled… but I just couldn’t help thinking that this exemplified the police protecting the possessions of the well-to-do 1% against the hunger, desperation, and envy of the 99%.
Would someone in a poor neighborhood get the same kind of police response? Would they be able to afford a web cam, and have a nice job at an office where they could surveil their estate in air-conditioned comfort?
Would this break-in have even occurred, if society genuinely offered everyone the opportunity for a future with a well-paid, non-hazadrous, secure employment leading to a comfortable retirement? Doesn’t our “Every man for himself” attitude encourage this kind of law-breaking?
“two Gentlemen have entered my house.”
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