Surveillance Video on the News

Websites operated by newspapers and TV stations tell you surveillance video produces lots of clicks.

By Hank Tester
|  Saturday, Nov 2, 2013  |  Updated 12:15 AM EDT
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It is the staple of the nightly news. The grainy images of a gun-toting thug jumping across a convenience store counter are considered

It is the staple of the nightly news. The grainy images of a gun-toting thug jumping across a convenience store counter are considered "eye candy" by television news producers. NBC 6's Hank Tester reports on how surveillance video is used by TV stations and Crime Stopper organizations.

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It is the staple of the nightly news. The grainy images of a gun-toting thug jumping across a convenience store counter are considered "eye candy" by television news producers.

Websites operated by newspapers and TV stations tell you surveillance video produces lots of clicks.

That's why TV viewers and web surfers will see an endless stream of crime scene surveillance video on their TV or computer screens. Surveillance video pulls in viewers and will lead a newscast no matter the type of crime.

"It might be that some of these crimes that have really great video do not have a lot of journalistic value at all. You know they are low-level robberies," said Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank.

Sam Terrilli, a media attorney on the staff of the University of Miami School of Journalism, says surveillance video "brings the viewer right to the scene of the action. Television of course lives or dies based on its ability to get good video, good motion pictures."

That's why the police handout video gets big play on local TV no matter the quality.

"Sometimes you see the surveillance video and wonder 'Why is that there? It does not show anything.' It is this really a search for some sort of art, some sort of motion in the background but it does not do anything to help the viewer understand the story," said Terrilli.

The pictures are considered to be key evidence by police. At times the images are crystal clear and depending on the quality of the cameras and police report there have been arrests within hours after the video is aired on local TV.

Case in point, a couple broke into a Coral Gables clothing store. The high-quality video was aired that evening on Miami TV stations

"As soon as the video was aired we got a pretty good lead. We got it over to Coral Gables Police and they made an arrest, " says Rufus BoClair from Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers.

Crime Stopper organizations hang their hats on surveillance video. Ralph Page, a former Miami TV reporter, heads Broward County Crime Stoppers and said that without the crime scene video TV exposure they do not get a lot of calls. But when the video hits the local newscasts, "instead of getting one or two calls that may have information we get eight or 10 calls."

Since the 1980s Crime Stoppers has generated in excess of 12,000 arrests, according to Page.

The result is a media marriage between law enforcement and the visual media. It is not uncommon at a crime scene to see police detectives and news reporters going door to door, checking out alleys for telltale surveillance cameras. The first question reporters and cops usually have is "is there any video?" If there is video chances are, if police can't make a quick arrest, those images will lead the nightly news because it is video and it works for all involved.

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