Why are surveillance images so low quality?
PLANKINTON -- After three break-ins in a year and a half, John Neuheisel decided it was time to take action.
Neuheisel, owner of the convenience store Roadside 66 in Plankinton, installed a new $10,000 surveillance system last spring. Before then, Roadside 66 had no surveillance equipment.
"After the last one, I just went and did it," Neuheisel said.
Then it happened again.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 3, a white male dressed in dark clothing threw a concrete block through the front door of Roadside 66. Once inside, the man pried open three video lottery machines and stole an undisclosed amount of cash.
Roadside 66 was closed when the break-in occurred, but the store's surveillance cameras captured the incident. An image pulled from the footage, emailed to The Daily Republic by the Aurora County Sheriff's Office, is so blurry it is all but impossible to see any identifiable facial features of the suspect.
The blurry image is because the image of the suspect was taken from a camera that was "a little low on light," Neuheisel said.
"It just so happened he looked at the wrong camera," he said.
Neuheisel claims the footage and images are still useful.
"If they ever catch the guy, we would be able to identify him," he said.
For law enforcement, blurry footage is better than no footage at all. An exact time frame of the crime and a basic description of the suspect can almost always be gotten from surveillance footage, said Aurora County Sheriff David Fink.
Even low-quality video can give more specific clues about a suspect's identity, Mitchell Police Detective Lt. Don Everson said, such as body stance or the way a person walks.
"Footage is useful whether it's crystal clear or not," Everson said. "There is always something you can get out of it."
Still, the clearer the footage is, the more valuable it becomes, Everson said. In most cases, the quality of surveillance equipment depends on cost, he added.
"They limit it to what they think it is worth to their business," Everson said. "They might not always know what it's really worth to them."
Erald Gjoni, owner of Sioux Falls-based Dakota Surveillance, begins working with new clients by asking what their budget is.
"The budget pretty much determines the quality they're going to get," Gjoni said.
A system with one basic camera and digital recorder generally costs between $1,500 and $2,000, he said, but equipment prices can vary considerably.
Gjoni works with close to 100 manufacturers, and nearly all of them have cameras that range in price from $150 to $2,000, he said.
Exactly why footage or images from surveillance cameras is often of low quality can vary, Gjoni said.
"Just like every other commodity, you get what you pay for," Gjoni said, but added proper installation is just as important as the equipment itself.
For example, the quality of the wire used to connect a surveillance camera with a recorder can have an impact on the quality of the recording, as can the amount of video stored at once on a single recorder.
"The lower the quality, the more video you're able to store," Gjoni said.
He encouraged business owners to be more proactive in making their businesses secure.
"It's a necessity," Gjoni said. "It's just unfortunate they don't see it until something bad happens."