Security Cameras Pose New Challenge to Robbery Suspects

The expense of high quality video surveillance equipment has plummeted, and many businesses are installing sophisticated  systems into their businesses.  This is posing a challenge to robbery and burglary suspects.  It seems like you cannot watch the news or go online without seeing photos or video footage of these guys caught in the act.

This youth apparently covered his head with his T-shirt before being caught by a security camera

This youth apparently covered his head with his T-shirt before being caught by a security camera

But burglary and robbery suspects are finding new ways to cover their faces when they are on the job.  I saw this photo to the left in the Olympian online yesterday that the police released with the hope of identifying him.  For the latest Eastern Washington crime/court news, I visit the blog Sirens & Gavels.  The stories in this blog by Meghann Cuniff usually include surveillance photos.  I read the Spokesman-Review in print, but I check their online site for the audio/video content.

This photo depicts Terran D. Schatz, who plead guilt to second degree robbery

This photo depicts Terran D. Schatz, who plead guilt to second degree robbery. Schatz was an Iraq war veteran who apparently became addicted to oxycontin

I follow all the local oxycontin robberies, and have blogged about this in the past, see earlier post.  The pattern that many of these robbers fit, is to try to cover as much of their face as possible without it seeming too suspicious.  Obviously if a person walks into a pharmacy or business with a bandanna over their face then that will alert everyone as to their intentions.  In my experience as a criminal defense attorney, some suspects keep these robberies as low-key as possible, simply presenting their demand to the counter in the form of a note.  In Meghann Cuniff’s blog today,  she posted surveillance footage of a failed armed robbery attempt by a man who allegedly walked into a pharmacy in Hayden with a gun to attempt to get oxycontin.   The suspect left empty-handed because the pharmacy avoids keeping it in stock due to the rash of such robberies.  Notice the suspect’s mannerisms as he walks into the store.  He clearly is aware of the presence of the security camera, and would have likely visited the store in advance to observe the placement.   The suspect casually covers his face with his hand, as if to suppress a cough, but drops his hand down after he passes the camera.   His head is covered with a hood and hat.

Such surveillance videos pose a challenge to the investigator and attorneys handling such cases.  The equipment is difficult to operate, and often times a store owner is not aware of how to duplicate the recording for the police.  In metropolitan areas, specialized robbery or major crimes detectives are well practiced at handling such equipment, but in our more rural counties deputy sheriffs often struggle.  As a defense attorney, I have dealt with armed robbery allegations cases where the video was replayed by the police to see, but was never copied for court or made available to the jury.   Often times, when a copy is made the file is “compressed” reducing the quality of the video footage.  “Compression” is the process by which a larger data file is reduced in size to more easily fit on a disk or flash drive.  Video quality varies from camera to camera, but unlike on TV, it is rare that the video can be significantly enhanced.  When I defended an armed robbery allegation in Okanogan County, I worked with an expert who used Photoflair to try to enhance the image, but it was not very successful.   Photoflair has been used in a lot of high profile cases, and can be helpful, but it is not like on CSI.   In the future, the police will not necessarily need to post the photo of a robbery suspect to solve the crime.  Face recognition software already exists and came on my MacBook when I bought it.  When I add photographs from my camera to my computer, the program recognizes the subjects of the photos and tags the photos accordingly.  It is possible that someday the police could match a photo of a robbery suspect with other photographs the suspect has posted on social networking sites.

Having defended such cases and worked with oxycontin addicts, I grow frustrated with the manufacturer of oxycontin, Purdue Pharma.   As I wrote in an earlier post, pharmaceutical company Purdue-Pharma invented and mass-marketed oxycontin.  The company agreed that it committed a felony when it marketed oxycontin and hid how unsafe it was.  The company faced 600 million in fines after it plead guilty, but the executives never went to jail.  The company encouraged doctors to prescribe it not just to dying cancer patients, but to people with even moderate pain.   Many addicts were thus created.  According to a story in the New York Times, “…Purdue Pharma contended that OxyContin, because of its time-release formulation, posed a lower threat of abuse and addiction to patients than do traditional, shorter-acting painkillers like Percocet or Vicodin.”  Less addictive then vicodin (i.e. hydrocodone)?  Now that really makes me chuckle.   Remember the above video of the robbery suspect who tried to rob the pharmacy but they did not stock oxycontin?  He left empty handed.  He didn’t ask for percocet or vicodin as an alternative.  He knows there is no substitute or no pharmacy drug like oxycontin.  It’s only equivalent is heroin.

The DEA has cut back on prescriptions for oxycontin, but you really can’t put the genie back in the bottle.  Addicts will rob pharmacies rather then suffer the agony of withdrawal.  Further steps are needed to limit oxycontin’s use.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR….
Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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