TAMPA — Across the street, as four men punched and kicked a U.S. Army sergeant, a little camera watched.
As the attackers pushed Sgt. Johnny Aparicio back to the ground and continued the beatings, the home surveillance camera recorded every blow.
Police got a copy of the recording from the homeowner with the camera. They posted it to YouTube the next day. Within hours, the assault turned into a national story, and tips started pouring in to police — largely thanks to that camera.
And that's not uncommon, police say.
More homeowners are installing home surveillance cameras than ever before, according to police and security companies. That's because the once cost-prohibitive devices are dropping in price, and they're becoming easier to access with smartphones.
Big-box stores sell multicamera systems that come with DVRs for just over $200. And locally, Verizon and Bright House have joined the game — Verizon in October and Bright House following in January, offering packages that start at $10 a month.
"It's a really popular product, because what we're offering gives customers a peace of mind," said Bright House spokesman Joe Durkin.
With this kind of technology, homeowners can watch Fido from work, spy on the sitter or train cameras outside.
And detectives know this.
For decades, law enforcement officials have sought surveillance video from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. Now, when they canvass a neighborhood after a crime, they're asking homeowners if they have video footage. Often, the answer is "yes."
"We know companies are really pushing them," said Tampa police Assistant Chief John Newman.
In April, home cameras helped crack the case of a serial burglar. A week later, another camera recorded two men suspected of robbing a U.S. Postal Service worker at gunpoint in Tampa.
In St. Petersburg, a camera mounted on a neighbor's house recorded two would-be burglars trying to break in through a back door. One man took a running start and slammed into the door, which didn't budge.
"He nearly knocked himself out," said police spokesman Mike Puetz.
That video, he said, was very popular.
Often, the images are too blurry for investigators to recognize facial features, but they can capture information about clothing and getaway cars. Video also time-stamps actions, and its release often leads to tips, as it did in the beating of Sgt. Aparicio.
Many times recordings of crimes lead to confessions. Tampa police sometimes show surveillance videos to suspects.
"You're able to see their reaction," said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. "And oftentimes, it's hard for them to deny it."
Sometimes, home cameras catch a unique feature that can lead police to a suspect. In the case of the serial robber, it was the unusual rims on his wife's Altima that connected him to each scene, police say.
Hilda Belez, 28, lives a few houses down from one of the homes targeted by the serial burglar.
She and her husband installed an entire camera system shortly after moving in three years ago, and though the images of the burglar were too blurry for police to use, she likes the reassurance the cameras offer.
She and her husband monitor their home from their smartphones, and whenever they go on vacation, they keep a laptop open and stream the real-time images recorded on the cameras.
"It's a worthy investment," she said.
Once, one of their cameras recorded public workers accidentally demolishing the couple's mailbox, she said. With one phone call — and a mention of her proof — she had a new mailbox.
For those who aren't ready to drop a couple of hundred on a security system, Belez suggests fake cameras. Many sell for about $10.
It's a small step, she said, that could persuade a would-be burglar your house just isn't worth the hassle.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.