A video posted online this week and already viewed more than 140,000 times showcases the improving technology behind surveillance — and a growing Winnipeg security firm that's taking advantage of that.
The video, taken at a Winnipeg car dealership on May 24, appears to show two men trying to steal wheels off a vehicle in the lot.
What most people watching the video wouldn't likely know is that while the alleged thieves were at work, someone was watching in real time.
That's because the footage was captured by BIL Security, a Transcona-based company that owners Bill Dietterle and Shawn Andrich say is one of only a few in the country that live monitors cameras for a private businesses.
"The crime element hasn't changed. There will always be bad people taking things that don't belong to them. A lot of my clients were experiencing hits even after implementing security programs," said Dietterle.
He has worked in the security industry for over two decades and started his own company in 2003, offering a service for private businesses and government agencies that hadn't been readily available.
"I saw the opportunity then of being able to take the technology and take it to that last step, which was being able to watch in real time," said Dietterle.
The company now live monitors more than 2,000 cameras on more than 100 private sites and has grown from just a few employees to a staff of 35.
Andrich, who came on as a partner with Dietterle 10 years ago, handles more of the technical and operational aspects of the company. He said one of the biggest advancements in the past few years has been the ability to control and interact with their sites remotely — something that sets their company apart.
"We're a unicorn in this industry. There's really nobody doing what we do the way that we do it," he said, adding their company is more than simply monitoring alarms.
"We get an alarm, we're engaging with moving cameras, we're moving them around — you can go online and see our videos — that's a human being moving those around, getting all that information."
Kim Caron, a director with the Canadian Security Association and chair of the association's monitoring committee, said security companies providing live video monitoring are still rare in the security industry.
Caron said interest in live monitoring is growing, but cost and technology have been barriers for many companies and that the practice isn't widespread yet.
"Video monitoring has been around for many years but not to the extent of the live video in which they're doing it. They are one of the forefront runners, for sure," said Caron.
Power of surveillance
Andrich said surveillance staff will notify police whenever they see criminal activity, as was the case in the May 24 car dealership incident. Dietterle says the company has often provided video evidence to police.
A Winnipeg police spokesperson couldn't confirm that BIL's footage had been successfully used in criminal prosecutions in the past. But in an emailed statement, the spokesperson said, "From a police standpoint, they can't hurt and only serve to provide evidence of an offence. So whether the video is used to assist in an investigation or used as evidence in court, it always better to have it on hand than not."
And now, it's not just police who get to see some of that video — BIL Security said as long as their clients give them permission, they plan to continue posting videos of incidents on their social media sites.
"It builds awareness. Most people don't believe a sign when it says it's 'under 24-hour surveillance,' right? We're actually watching and doing this stuff. So we start to put videos online and we start to actually say, 'Yes, we're actually watching,'" said Andrich.
Andrich added that while they plan to continue sharing some videos online to warn would-be thieves, they'll be careful about what they post.
"Even though we're putting stuff on social media, and we're getting permission to do so from our customers, we're pretty careful about [the] privacy of our customers and protecting their footage."
Winnipeg can look different after midnight
Andrich posted video on Facebook of a recent incident at another car dealership, where two people had taken a light bar off a brand new truck. They moved fast enough that police didn't get there in time. So Andrich and his company posted their HD images on social media.
"Wouldn't you know it, within two hours, two different people came and put the part that they had stolen back on the truck and left," Andrich said.
"We forget that on the internet we're all kind of connected and we're all kind of talking to each other."
Andrich said one of the byproducts of that connectivity, and having eyes all over the city, is some of the non-criminal activity the cameras inadvertently pick up.
"Oh, boy. You name it, you'd be shocked at what people will do, parked underneath a camera that we're monitoring. There are things that we don't even report either to customers or to the police because it's not necessarily illegal. But there's lots of weird stuff."