BARBERTON, Ohio — Barberton police are investigating a reported break-in of the city council president’s personal vehicle during the week of Christmas. However, unbeknownst to the thief at the time, one of the items that was stolen provided a break in the case.
Barberton City Council President Justin Greer, whose private sector job is the chief technology officer at Black Gate Hunting Products, said his personal vehicle was broken into and rummaged through on Dec. 21 or 22. On Dec. 22, he noticed something was off. But it was the following day when his suspicions were confirmed.
“My phone started receiving notifications. I looked down. It’s not uncommon for me to receive hundreds of notifications, as it is for everybody’s daily life. But this one caught my eye because it was from one of the trail cameras,” Greer said. “It dawned on me that my camera was stolen because — looking at the cameras — the photos coming in were not from anywhere I left it.”
The trail camera that was sending photographs to Greer’s phone was one of his "research and development" trail cameras — essentially a working prototype. Typically used in surveillance of remote locations or to non-disruptively capture wild animals in their natural environments, trail cameras will inconspicuously capture photographs — even live video — when powered on.
It appears the suspect that had stolen the trail camera had unwittingly “caught themselves.” Additionally, because it was a prototype, Greer had remote access to the device’s location data.
“Being LTE or cellular, we have the ability internally and externally — through the network system — to kind of do what law enforcement does when they track your phone,” Greer said. “[The company] didn’t feel it was accurate enough for us to put it in as a service — until I used it now. It actually pinpointed to the street.”
Using the photos captured by the trail camera, Greer took to social media to crowdsource leads on the identifications of the individuals. After receiving a few leads, Greer was then able to cross-reference a possible address to those individuals with the location data on the trail camera.
It was a match, Greer said.
After alerting Barberton police, Greer stopped by the house.
“Basically, they just denied that they did it. They said a third party — someone that also lived at the house but wasn’t home at the time — is the one who stole it,” Greer said.
He eventually received the stolen trail camera but it had been badly damaged. Greer said it appears the suspect intentionally broke the trail camera upon learning of Greer’s social media posts.
Greer said he has turned over all the information to Barberton police.
“It was definitely a proof of concept in that aspect,” Greer said. “I would like to find out in better ways than the camera being stolen but the technology on these cameras, especially the cell trail cameras, has grown exponentially over the past 5 years.”