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Home automation system, YouTube nab burglars

An Indiana man is sitting in prison for six years, thanks to a motion-sensitive video camera hooked up to a computer and a video of the break-in posted to YouTube.

Fans of home automation systems controlled by a personal computer like to speculate about how their software might be able to snare intruders. An Indiana man named Fred Thompson actually did it.

Court documents show the story started after Thompson's home in Fort Wayne, Ind., was burglarized. Thompson responded by setting up a video camera hooked up to his computer and configured it to remotely notify him when motion was detected when the house was supposed to be empty.

On October 10, 2006, the system notified Thompson that movement was detected. He jumped in his car, called the police, and headed home.

Thompson and Officer Stephanie Souther found that the house's front door was unlocked and a window in the rear was open, but that nobody was actually inside. The recorded video showed a man entering from the rear of the house, unlocking the front door to let someone else in, and then the two walked around inside. An eight-foot piece of copper pipe was missing.

After the police failed to turn up any leads, Thompson posted the video on YouTube a week later with the title "Burglars Caught in Fort Wayne." It now appears to be deleted. Detective Everett D. White of the Fort Wayne Police Department's Neighborhood Response Team--who was off-duty and at home--happened to notice it.

He showed it to his colleagues at work the next day, and one recognized the two men.

On November 16, 2006, Richard Klaff was charged with felony burglary and felony theft. A jury convicted him the following June, and a judge sentenced him to six years in prison and one year of probation.

Klaff appealed his conviction, claiming the evidence was insufficient. But the Indiana appeals court ruled on March 31 that the recorded video "establishes that not only was Klaff present at the house, but also that he was an active participant, and thus the evidence may raise a reasonable inference of guilt."

Score one, home automation. (Yes, perhaps this isn't technically home automation in the same way an Indigo-and-Insteon-equipped home is, but it's still pretty close.)

For background on automated burglar-nabbing, check out this tale of another successful effort. Here's a Windows tutorial; Linux users have the Motion project. I use Perceptive Automation's Indigo software on my Macintosh computers at home.

Of course, you should remember to configure your computer to upload or e-mail the captured images to a remote server instead of storing them locally on a hard drive that could be stolen. And if that doesn't work, this might be an even better countermeasure (and video). Bonus: It should deter FBI agents sneaking into your house, too.