Proud Member of the Friends of Austin Neighborhoods Network

Dawson Neighborhood

About Virtual Neighborhood Watch

Click HERE to go straight to the live demo.

This is a new spin on the traditional concept of a neighborhood watch. Traditionally, a group of neighbors physically walk around the neighborhood looking for things that look out of place. The volunteers often have taken safety training, typically in partnership with the local police, and might even wear distinctive shirts or reflective vests. As of this writing, Dawson Neighborhood has no Watch at all, but there were some “Nosy Neighbors” decals ordered some years back to show crooks that we’re on the alert. Here is APD’s online handbook for forming a Neighborhood Watch Program [.pdf].

The Austin Police Department is currently leading a 3-part series of trainings to help groups start a neighborhood watch. The 3 parts repeat twice each year and you do not have to attend all of them or in any order. Here is the 2016 schedule. [.pdf]

A “Virtual Neighborhood Watch” consists of a trusted group of neighbors who share access to each other’s security cameras over the Internet. Viewing and recording video would be managed by a central server like the one this website is on. We’d be able to look in on our own properties from anywhere in the world, and “patrol” across the neighborhood live, from the safety of our hotels, homes or offices. Picture something like Google Street View, but with live images! The system would record when it senses motion, and could broadcast alerts to each volunteer, so we can lend an eye to those who may be away from home when something happens.

The cost to each member isn’t high. I’m using four of the cheapest PTZ IP cameras that can currently be bought new. they’re a no-brand clone of the Foscam, $40 shipped, and can be ordered online HERE. This item has a web interface and also comes with a basic “command center” application for Windows that can monitor a few dozen cameras at once. I’ve also tested an advanced server application that can simultaneously monitor and record hundreds of compatible cameras, and detect motion. Other brands which are compatible include some Pelco, Sony VISCA, Axis, and Neu-Fusion. Possibly any camera which can be viewed over a web browser can work, especially if it works with the Firefox browser.

I also have the Zmodo ZMD-DD-SBN8, a $130, 4-camera system with digital DVR just like THIS one.  It’s even for sale at WalMart and Fry’s for about $150. The web access only works with Internet Explorer browser, and it may not be ideal for the Watch. However, it’s not a toy, and also comes with a professional “command center” application that can record and monitor hundreds of Zmodo cameras.

Hopefully this spurs some folks to buy a camera or two for their own safety. They’re really very cheap and easy to use now. Having a time-stamped photo or video clip of an intruder is really valuable to provide to the police and neighbors! Renters may at least be allowed to install a video peephole like THIS one, which provides a doorbell and records your visitors on a memory card. Some come with an intercom and take “video voice-mail” messages while you’re gone.

Click HERE to go to the demo page now.

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