Joseph F. Berenato
On cameras, surveillance and suspicion of trespassing
A few months ago, my wife convinced me to get Ring cameras for our house.
At first, I was opposed to the idea. We live in a low-crime area and I didn’t really see the need to have our home under constant surveillance. I didn’t want us to become increasingly paranoid with every notification.
Soon enough, though, she talked me into it with a simple justification: you never know. You just never know.
(Interestingly enough, that was the same justification my grandfather used—when he lived in that house—for stashing baseball bats in the kitchen, the living room and the master bedroom. You just never know.)
Once the cameras arrived and we installed them, we had video access to virtually our entire property. I’ll admit it; it was fascinating.
Thanks to the app on our smartphones, we can look at the outside of our house from anywhere we can get a signal. Not only that, but the audio component allows us to talk to each other—or anybody who comes to the door, like, say, a mail carrier or the copious amounts of Amazon delivery drivers that find their way to Mohawk Corner—without the use of a phone.
Naturally, we used it to mess with each other for a time.
Oh, Joe’s outside? Let’s make funny noises.
Oh, Robyn’s outside? Let’s scream like a horror movie.
It got old rather quickly.
Additionally, thanks to the sensitivity settings—we still haven’t found the sweet spot with them—we get notifications all the time.
Yes, they alert us when people come onto our property, which is their primary purpose.
But they also alert us when a trash truck drives by.
Or when a squirrel is prancing about.
Or when there’s a snow squall.
Or when a tree’s shadow moves suddenly.
So, naturally, we—or, at least, I—tended to ignore the Ring notifications when they came through.
Last week, as I was getting ready to leave work, I got a notification of movement by our back door. I paid it no mind, figuring it was a bee or something.
Then, a second notification came through, and I decided to have a look.
Somebody was walking across our backyard into our shed.
My first thought was that it was Carter, so I switched views to the front of the house.
His car wasn’t there.
There was a stranger on our property.
In my shed.
Granted, there’s nothing of value to steal from our shed, unless one is in dire need of bouncy balls, beach buckets or a shovel, but that wasn’t the point.
I got in my car and headed home, keeping the camera open on my phone. I looked at it at every stop sign and red light; the intruder was still in the shed.
As I drove, I wondered if I should call the police. That seemed the sensible thing to do, but I held off just in case it actually was Carter and I somehow missed his car.
I also wondered what I would do if it was, in fact, someone trying to rob me. What if they became violent? I started taking a mental inventory of everything in my car that could be used for self-defense in an emergency. I also thought about everything around the outside of my house that I could grab without being noticed by an intruder—garden tools, broom handles, tree branches waiting for brush pick-up; you name it.
As I got closer, I had a plan. The intruder was still in my shed. At the last stop sign before my house, I dialed 911, ready to hit “send” if need be.
I pulled up to the house. Carter’s car was not in the street, nor was it in the front driveway.
As I pulled into back driveway, I saw that the door to my grandfather’s pickup was opened—and I was ready for a confrontation.
Just then I saw someone exit the shed.
It was Carter.
It was then that I saw his car parked on the other side of the truck—which obscured its view from the camera.
Carter had gotten home from work early and decided to tinker with the truck a bit—the first notification was him actually exiting the house to walk toward the truck—while I was trying to figure out how to brain him with a travel mug.
He thought it was funny when I told him. So did Robyn.
I think it’s funny now, but when it happened it was extremely unpleasant. It didn’t sour me completely on the cameras, but the fact that my fear was realized—that I did become paranoid—left a bad taste in my mouth.
Still, we’ll keep them. I just need to be more mindful of the notifications in the future, because you never know. You just never know.
Joseph F. Berenato holds a Master’s in Writing from Rowan University and has been writing for The Hammonton Gazette—to varying degrees—since 1997. He is a trustee with the Historical Society of Hammonton and a caretaker at Oak Grove Cemetery. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.