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Install Security Cameras – Help the police help us

At a recent meeting with police officers who patrol 124th Street, a question was asked about what tool they needed the most in their fight against drug dealing and quality of life issues.  The unequivocal response from the police officers in the room was security cameras.

A camera system for your building or home is a series of compromises and a complex one at that.  First of all, We would stress that you have to focus on the quality of the camera, as expressed in megapixels.  There is no point in buying and installing a system that doesn’t have the resolution to tell the police, and then convince a jury, who the perpetrator is.  While I currently have a system with 6, 3 MP (3 megapixels or 3,000 pixels) cameras, if I was buying today, We would aim for a 5 MP camera system or above.

Once you set a camera standard (5MP+ cameras…), then the issue is really how to wire the setup.  Although a wireless setup sounds good, stay clear from this kind of system.  Wireless cameras still need wires (for power) or batteries (which you’ll go through at an alarming rate and need to get up on a ladder to change…).  All a wireless camera will give you is a wireless data transfer to the DVR that records your footage for review or preservation.  But, being wireless, you’ll run into problems as the signal tries to get through thick Harlem brownstone/apartment walls.  And, in the end, the data transfer is often so weak compared to a wired connection that you’ll be stuck with low-resolution cameras and poor quality recordings.

We would recommend looking for a ‘Power over Ethernet’ camera system (PoE).  This means that both the power sent to the camera and the data from the camera to the DVR, are sent by the same cable (typically called an ethernet cable).  That means that you (or the installer) just has to get one wire to each camera from the DVR, and not worry about the proximity of the closest electrical power source (note that the cameras use LED’s to light up the scene at night time, and while you will only get black/white images at night, at least you’ll get images).

We would recommend a ‘package’ like the ones you see here that mostly come with 2 TB DVRs.  (The DVRs are the hard drives that store the footage for you.  You’ll usually need to buy your own monitor to view the footage.  A DVR with 2 TB (2 terabytes) will roughly give you 1 or 2 weeks of footage that you can review (newer footage overwrites the oldest, so you have to export/save anything of value you want to preserve to a USB drive).

Note that anyone who can do electrical work, can easily put up a camera system, and no permits are required.  Also, if you want to get super ‘Mission Impossible’ a movable/zoomable camera setup, this will require a separate power source to run the motors that drive these cameras and thus cost significantly more.

Lastly, we want to emphasize that there is no point mounting your cameras up high and getting great footage of criminals’ headgear.  You need to think about ways to get footage from as close to eye-level as you can.  There is, of course, the issue of this then being vandalized, but a high camera will only tell you that ‘someone’ came to your building, but not give the authorities enough information to find that person, let alone convict someone in a court of law.

If we were starting today, we might go with something like this:

or, if we wanted a more budget-friendly system:

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