Video doorbell brings peace to Milford couple after break-in attempts
MILFORD >> For Richard and Sandra Gerber, it was a doorbell that brought peace.
Equipped with a camera and set-up to send notifications to a smartphone, the Ring Video Doorbell captured clear images of a masked man who police think tried to break into their home on Cedarhurst Lane multiple times in recent weeks.
Those images helped Milford police arrest Walter Denike during an alleged attempt on the home early on the morning of July 29.
Officers were staked out in the back yard and spotted Denike as he approached the house, police alleged. The man tried to flee, but was quickly taken into custody. Police have said they believe he also tried to break into the house July 7 and 11.
Denike, 62, has been charged with one count of third-degree trespassing and interfering with police, both misdemeanors. He remains jailed in lieu of $15,000 bail. He is due to appear Aug. 24 in Superior Court, and police have said more charges are expected.
“We feel secure now” with Denike behind bars, said Sandra Gerber.
The doorbell was put to the test just days after the Gerbers purchased it. Richard Gerber said his wife suggested it just as they were about to go on vacation out of state.
The Gerbers said they don’t know Denike, but they believe someone tried to enter their home on five occasions, including the morning of Denike’s arrest. They believe an intruder would enter the home through an unlocked door and rifle through Sandra’s purse or take any other money available.
Sometimes the amounts were small enough not to notice or to write off a misplaced change. But on at least one occasion they say the theft totaled in the hundreds of dollars. The couple thought the money was being stolen elsewhere, perhaps when they were in public.
“He was having some success in getting into our house in the middle of the night and getting some money without us knowing,” Richard Gerber said. “He was using us as his bank.”
After they figured out what was happening, the Gerbers tried to spread the word in their neighborhood in hopes of scaring off the thief.
“We tried to get the word out as much publicity as possible to deter him from coming back,” Sandra Gerber said, but they believe the thief never saw it.
The couple said Denike was living in a tent in nearby woods; police listed Denike’s address as a mental health and addiction center on Bridgeport Avenue. Denike is being represented by a public defender; a message with the office in New Haven was not immediately returned.
The day after Denike was arrested, Sandra Gerber woke up and turned to her husband. She realized it was the first time in weeks she didn’t have to check her phone for a notification that someone had been trying to get into their home.
INVENTION IN ACTION
Jamie Siminoff, the inventor of the Ring Video Doorbell, said his company has heard many stories like the Gerbers’. But he said the prospect of what might’ve happened without the system still makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
“I think being able to stop that before it gets to a point where it’s a tragic thing is great and we’re always excited to see this stuff in action and be part of making neighborhoods safe,” he said in a phone interview this past week. Siminoff’s doorbell doesn’t require someone to ring it to become active. The bell has a motion detector that can pick up movement on the porch or near the door. It also comes with a two-way microphone so that a homeowner can talk to someone who is at the door, even if they aren’t able to answer. Siminoff, a longtime inventor, said he actually stumbled upon the idea by accident. He needed a way to monitor and answer his own door while working on other creations in his garage. But when he shared the video doorbell idea with friends, he said that’s what they wanted to hear about.
“I do believe the key to making our neighborhoods safer is having neighbors and police working together hand in hand in the right ways,” he said.
“Obviously, this isn’t vigilantism. But allowing neighbors to talk and use their knowledge can help them show the police ‘This person is someone who should not be here.’”
Siminoff said he thinks the devices could help improve the relationships police departments have with individual neighborhoods.
“I think police are a very necessary thing to have and I think creating a stronger bond between both is good going forward,” he said.
Siminoff said his California company has sold hundreds of thousands of doorbells since they hit the market nearly three years ago.
MORE TOOLS FOR POLICE
John DeCarlo, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, said devices like the video doorbell are part of a growing class of consumer electronics that enable police to collect clues about crimes.
“We’ve created a method where consumers are not necessarily collecting that info intentionally, but we’re setting up a situation where police could harvest that information,” said DeCarlo, a former Branford police chief.
DeCarlo is studying that trend with other electronic components, such as MAC numbers, which are unique numbers assigned to smartphones. If someone enters a house with a wifi router, that router registers the phone’s MAC number, even if the phone doesn’t connect to the network. There isn’t a global list of MAC numbers but if police find a suspect with a phone “what we do have now is a piece of evidence, like a fingerprint at the scene,” DeCarlo said.
These developments are the latest dimension in one of the oldest principles of modern policing: that the police are the public and the public are the police. DeCarlo said tools that allow citizens to directly participate in preventing and solving crimes allow them to help police keep their communities safe, which strengthens the relationship between both parties.
“By leveraging technology, it’s certainly one of those ways you can do that,” DeCarlo said.
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