First crime solved using new security camera system

Today I got a great call from Oakland Police:
A photo of a car involved in a hit and run had been instrumental in solving the case.

The complete story:

About 3 weeks ago, a car parked on one of our streets was hit by a car.
After apologizing the driver took of without leaving the required
contact and insurance information. (This is a Hit and Run under California Vehicle
Code 20002(c) ) 2 of our neighbors who had witnessed the
episode, but had not been able to see the license of the hit and run driver.
They called the police, then they called me.

My wife and I were in Santa Cruz at the time, and they reached me on my
cell phone, The witness gave me an accurate description of the vehicle and
a 5 minute time window. After the build-in privacy delay had passed I was able
to remotely examine the pictures on our internet based server (in the
cloud) from Santa Cruz, and from the description pick a matching car that I sent via email to the witness. They confirmed that this was the car and showed the picture with a clearly visible license plate to the officer when he arrived at the scene.

Hit and Run driver fleeing the scene

Hit and Run driver fleeing the scene - Actual Criminal Caught on Camera - This photo solved the crime - Click to enlarge

By comparing the license plate with our list of trusted license plates I was able to determine that the car did not belong to a neighbor.

That same night I got the Police report number and I sent an
electronic high-resolution copy of the photo to my contacts at the
Oakland police.

This morning the investigating officer called me and said, that they
had located the driver using our photo of the vehicle and license
When confronted, the driver admitted to everything.

Police considers the case as solved, and tells me that the photo was the key piece of evidence. The victim is VERY happy with our neighborhood security camera solution.

In the 2 months since our system went officially online we have sent photos to
the police about 5 times, and now we have our 1st solved case. With 5:1 odds, we could not be happier.


Wide Dynamic Range WDR examined.

Wide Dynamic Range a.k.a. High Dynamic Range is one of the hottest subject concerning surveillance cameras. Some of the people I talk to will choose a camera with a number of functional shortcomings just because it is believed to have the all important High Dynamic Range. So I decided to investigate.

What is Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) ?

A photo with some areas in sunshine and others in shade will not be able to show both areas well, either the bright area will be lit correctly and the dark area will be under-exposed, or the dark area will be lit correctly and the bright area will be overexposed. Technically it is very hard to expose different parts of the scene with different opening times. Wide/High Dynamic Range is an attempt to do the impossible and expose different areas different.

WDR on Axis P1347-E Network Camera

Axis uses this photo to show WDR on their homepage:

Axis Wide Dynamic Range Sample from their homepage.

Axis has a white paper describing the different ways to achieve wide dynamic range, and the pros and cons of the different methods. Link at the bottom of this page.

Axis calls the method implemented in the P1347-E for “Dynamic Contrast”

Axis P1347-E WDR setting

Axis P1347-E WDR setting - Dynamic Contrast

Real life WDR tests.

To test the WDR function of the Axis P1347-E, I enabled Wide Dynamic Range in the Axis interface, there is a sub-setting with a range from low to high, I experimented shortly with moving the setting all the way to low and all the way to high, but was unable to detect any visible difference in the images, so I left that at its default setting which was the middle.

I then left the WDR on for 1 week, and then set out to collect comparison photos. A set of comparison photo would be two photos that showed the same scene, with and without WDR, The jobs turned out to be a lot harder that I had though and I ended up having to drive my car past the camera in the end to get that last good comparison set.. Day scenes were especially troublesome, when I found the same car on two photos 1 week apart, the weather would not be the same, a comparison between a sunny day and a cloudy day would be useless.

WDR Day comparison

The Postal truck was nice, it comes at the same time every day.

WDR Day Scene with Shade

WDR Day Scene with Shade, click to enlarge

WDR should enhance the US Postal Van is in shade. And it does, the postal van in the shade is slightly lighter with WDR. However we lose details on the rest of the photo and while lighter the WDR does not give us any additional details on the Van.
Enabling WDR:  no practical difference

WDR Sunrise comparison

Too bright for night vision and too dark for day vision, sunrise and sunset are traditionally times of the day that are hard to capture on surveillance cameras, what will the Wide Dynamic Range do? it was really hard to find comparison photos as the twilight period in northern California is only a few minutes long, and here in the spring the sunrise it at an earlier time every day.

Sunrise twilight WDR comparison

Sunrise twilight WDR comparison - Click to enlarge

Looking at the clothes it is obvious that the WDR setting reduce the level of details, Looking at the black dog and the asphalt, one can see how the WDR setting introduces noise pixels.
Enabling WDR:  Worse 

WDR Night comparison 1

The night is where most cameras has a hard time recording license plates, and distinguishing car models, so I was eagerly anticipating the result of the night comparisons.

The good news for this test is that the light is pretty consistent at night compared to day (consistently dark that is).

White Van WDR Comparison

White Van WDR Comparison - Click to Enlarge

WDR reveals more details on the vehicle, and on the far side of the street, however the license plate that could not be read before still cannot be read.
Enabling WDR:  Better

WDR Night comparison 2

WDR Night Comparison 2

WDR Night Comparison 2 - Click to enlarge

With WDR the noise washes out the details of the car and driver (convertible roof on in the 2nd photo), without WDR we can see a part of the license plate, but with WDR the license plate is completely washed out.
Enabling WDR: Worse

WDR Night Comparison 3 headlights

Blinding headlights makes it hard to see a license plate at night, how would the Wide Dynamic Range fare here?

WDR Night Comparison with Headlights.

WDR Night Comparison with Headlights. - Click to enlarge (test car, not a criminal)

WDR does not give us any additional details, instead it almost washes out the license plate that could be clearly read in the photo without WDR.
Enabling WDR: Worse

Larger Statistical sample

Based on the last comparison sample, and a feeling I got from examining thousands of photos looking for comparison samples, I decided to do an actual count of the license plate readability in darkness for 2 nights (1 without WDR + 1 with WDR), my initial feeling was confirmed by the hard numbers: when measured over 87 night vehicles with license plates, the readability fell 33% when enabling WDR.


Wide Dynamic Range from Axis as implemented on the P1347-E holds a lot of promise but fails to deliver on key practical points. Camera is excellent both day and night without WDR, and has the key ftp push feature that is crucial to our implementation. The camera will continue to be our favorite camera, but WDR stays turned off.

More Info:

Wikipedia on High Dynamic Range:

Axis on WDR:

Axis Whitepaper on WDR:


Visit By Captain Israel

Oakland PD Captain Jeffrey Israel comes by

Saturday was a big day for our neighborhood group, Captain Israel had seen our photos submitted as evidence to the Police and wanted to come by and see the system for himself.

He was greeted by the Chairperson of our neighborhood group and myself.

Captain Israel arrives, click to enlarge, you can even read the "CA EXEMPT" on the License plate.

Captain Israel arrives, click to enlarge, you can even read the "CA EXEMPT" on the License plate.

The first order of business was to show him our recording of him entering our neighborhood.

The Camera had been well hidden and he had not seen it.

The license plate was readable in all the photos.

We did a short demonstration of our system and discussed when it was prudent to call the police. Answer: Every time.

 Advice from Captain Israel

1) If someone knocks on your door at 3:00 am in the morning, call the police immediately, that is a time with low call volume, and typically the police will be able to respond right away.

2) If the Alarm goes of in the middle of the night and the burglars flee, call it in immediately, it is an attempted Burglary and needs to be logged in their database so that the police can determine criminal patterns.

3) For both incidents it is a great help for the police if the neighborhood surveillance photos can be tied to a police report number, so again make sure you report it every time.

Make sure your Camera are lit and visible at night.

Make sure your Camera are lit and visible at night.

4) When placing real or decoy cameras on the outside on your property, place it where it is lit at night, so that the criminals can clearly see the camera also at night.

5) Make sure your internal list of trusted license plates is up-to-date so that you don’t report a neighbor to the police.

Helping others

Captain Israel asked us to share our know-how with other neighborhood groups, and introduced us to another group which is about to start a neighborhood Camera Project. Naturally we agreed to help on the spot.

Last was the obligatory Photo Opportunity

Captain of Police Jeffrey Israel  and Jesper Jurcenoks

Captain of Police Jeffrey Israel and Jesper Jurcenoks

Sample Bylaws

The Sample Bylaws for a neighborhood security camera group are provided “AS-IS” with no warranty about suitability for a specific purpose or legal correctness whatsoever. It is ultimately your responsibility to make sure your organization is run correctly.

Please also read general information about bylaws on the post Making an Organization



    1. Voting members will be residents from the geographic area of the <GROUP NAME>, which includes all <Street 1; Street 2 from X to Y> addresses.
    2. Participation in the <GROUP NAME> is completely voluntary.
    1. The Leadership Council consists of: a Chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary, a Crime Fighting Leader, an Emergency Preparedness Leader and <X> number of Block Captains,
    2. The Leadership Council will initially self-constitute an interim leadership council until first elections.
    3. A leadership member may serve in no more than two positions concurrently (from the aggregate of positions described in sections a. and b. above), Chairperson and Treasurer CANNOT be the same person.
    4. The Leadership Council will have full authority to coordinate the, including the authority to open and manage a bank account, sign contracts with vendors, receive and disburse funds, and manage any other business of the organization.
    5. Leadership Council meetings will be called by the Chairperson as needed, but at least once a year, and at least two weeks before the full <GROUP NAME> meeting at which elections are held. Any <GROUP NAME> member may request to attend a Leadership Council meeting.
    1. The <GROUP NAME> will meet at least annually or more frequently as determined by the Leadership Council.  Meetings will be held within the Oakland city limits.
    2. The general <GROUP NAME> meeting will be announced and the agenda, including approval of minutes, a chair, a treasurer’s report, crime fighting leaders report, emergency preparedness leaders report, reports from committees, elections and old and new business, will be publicized to the neighborhood at least two weeks in advance.
    3. If a vote is taken at a meeting, a quorum of at least fifteen people must be present for the vote.
    1. After an interim period, and no later than <date>, the members of the Leadership Council will be elected by a majority vote of <GROUP NAME> members at a full <GROUP NAME> assembly.
    2. Subsequent elections will be held no later than <month> <day> of each following year at a full <GROUP NAME> meeting.
    3. Each Leader will serve a two-year term, except for the interim Leaders elected in 2011, or Leaders elected for partial terms to fulfill the staggered terms of section e. below.
    4. The Chairperson, Secretary, Emergency Preparedness Leader, and <Street 1> Block Captain will be elected in odd-numbered years, and the Treasurer, Crime Fighting Leader and <street 2> Block Captain will be elected in even-numbered years.
    5. Any <GROUP NAME> community member is eligible to run for any open position.
    6. Leadership Council members will be elected by the <GROUP NAME> membership by a majority of those present and voting, assuming a quorum of fifteen members has been reached.
    7. Vacancies may be filled by the Leadership Council in the interim between elections.
    1. No member of the <GROUP NAME> will be compensated.  There will be no employees.
    1. Committees will be created as determined by the Leadership Council, based on neighborhood input.
    2. Any <GROUP NAME> resident may serve on a committee.
    3. Committees will report to, and be supported by the Leadership Council..
    1. Funds will be collected to provide for neighborhood projects, such as security projects (i.e. Camera equipment, Infra red lights, and maintenance), emergency preparedness projects, and Beautification projects.
    2. All contributions are considered equal regardless of the actual amount.  No member shall have greater influence or more votes because of larger contribution amounts.
    3. The amount(s) will be recommended by the project committee and requested by the Leadership Council from the membership. Amounts received as membership contributions are transferred and held in trust to provide for the management, maintenance, and care of association property/equipment if they are not used for association purposes during the year.
    4. Payment of Contributions.  Contributions will be paid to the <GROUP NAME>, collected by the Treasurer, and kept in separate accounts depending on the purpose that the funds were collected for i.e. Security, Emergency Preparedness, and Beautification.
    5. All requests for funds must be approved by the Leadership Council.
    6. All expenditures must be approved in advance by the Leadership Council.
    1. The accounts, books, and financial records will be kept by the Treasurer, and may be made available to any <GROUP NAME> member upon request.
    2. Minute from Leadership Council meetings, Official correspondence, all revisions of bylaws, minutes of Member meetings, are kept by the Secretary.
    3. Minutes of each general neighborhood meeting will be posted on the groups password protected web-site.
    1. Any member can initiate an amendment to these by-laws.
    2. The proposed amendment will be considered and voted upon at a duly called general meeting.
    3. Changes to Bylaws requires 2/3 majority, and requires a quorum of 20 people.
    1. The <GROUP NAME> may initiate the process to dissolve if a 2/3 majority of the membership votes for this course of action at a duly called meeting.
    2. As a nonprofit, and though it is an unincorporated association, any remaining assets of the <GROUP NAME> must be given to another nonprofit, in accordance with California law.


<name>, Chairperson                                           (date)

<name>, Treasurer                                               (date)

<name>, Secretary                                               (date)

<name>, Crime Fighting Leader                          (date)

<name>, Emergency Preparedness Leader       (date)

<name>, <street 1> Block Captain                      (date)

<name>, <street 2> Block Captain                     (date)

<name>, <street 1> Block Captain                      (date)

(The list of topics in these by-laws is a partial list of the suggested outline for by-laws found in Franchise Tax Board booklet 3500 to apply as an unincorporated association for exemption from CA income or franchise taxes.)


The language in Section B below is drawn verbatim from “Guidelines for Homeowners Associations FTB 1028”. 

See Page 3 at

A.  Incorporator Organizational Tests.  General

  1. The name of the organization shall be the <GROUP NAME>.
  2. This organization does not contemplate financial gain or profit to its members and is organized for nonprofit purposes.
  3. The specific and primary purpose of the association is to operate an unincorporated homeowners’ neighborhood association within the meaning of Section 23701t of the California Revenue and Taxation Code.
  4. Notwithstanding any of the above statements of purposes and powers, this organization shall not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of the specific purpose of this organization.

B.  Operational Test General Requirements.  Source of income test: 60 percent or more of gross income is from membership dues, fees, and assessments.

  1. Source of income test: 60 percent or more of gross income comes from membership dues, fees, and assessments. In the case of a cooperative housing corporation, payments from stockholder members to pay acquisition indebtedness or other fees are considered fees and assessments.
  2. Expenditure test: 90 percent or more of the expenses for the year are for acquisition, construction, management, maintenance, and care of association property or, in the case of a timeshare association, for activities provided to or on behalf of the members of the association.
  3. No part of the net earnings is used to benefit any private individual other than in the normal course of activities of the association.