For years, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have regularly turned to modern technology and surveillance cameras to help track criminals wherever they happen to lurk. Not only is this often an incredibly thorough way of collecting essential evidence, but it’s also much safer than putting an actual officer or informant in harm’s way at the exact same time. Recently, one such criminal discovered he was being monitored and came up with a unique solution to his problem—he decided to shoot said camera with a high-powered rifle, blowing it to bits from across the street.
As anyone with even a basic knowledge of how cameras work can tell you, this was simply the beginning of a much larger story that did NOT have a happy ending for the criminal in question.
The Brown Brother Hood and the Undercover Probe
The story of the destroyed surveillance camera actually begins all the way back in 2015, when the FBI began investigating the “Brown Brother Hood”—a street gang based in Vallejo, California. Members of the gang itself were suspected of being heavily involved in illegal arms trades, having purchased numerous assault rifles and pistols (in addition to pound after pound of methamphetamine and other illicit substances).
At one point during the investigation, the police installed a surveillance camera on a utility pole outside a suspect’s home. As the FBI began to close in, the subject got increasingly nervous—which is when he used one of those illegally-purchased guns to actually shoot out the camera from across the street.
But as you would probably expect, this was far from the end of the story for the Brown Brother Hood gang. Indeed, it was only the beginning. The suspect only thought he was in the clear because he lacked a basic understanding of how these types of surveillance cameras actually worked.
Surveillance units actually noted that for weeks it appeared as though one suspect, in particular, was looking for tracking devices anywhere he could find them. He was even checking the undersides of the vehicles he drove—vehicles he would change often. His suspicions were not unwarranted, but because the surveillance camera that was shot had been storing and transmitting all the footage it was recording, he really only damaged the camera itself and not the information that it had already collected.
Score one for the wonders of modern technology
The FBI had an operation scheduled for later that day, but it was canceled out of concerns for their own safety. Indeed, it seems all the suspect was really able to accomplish was confirming (on video, no less) he had access to some of those illegal guns he was suspected of purchasing in the first place.
Shooting the camera also did nothing to stop a series of undercover operations that ultimately led to the conviction of both the source and other associates. Over a period of nine months, for example, a confidential FBI informant was able to purchase illegal guns, firearms, and drugs from the man for totals ranging from $700 to $1,300 or more.
In a particularly stunning case of irony, it was actually the man shooting out the police camera that led to the FBI swooping in and making a series of high-profile arrests sooner than they had initially planned. The suspect and one associate were arrested and made brief appearances in federal court earlier in December 2017. In addition to being charged with crimes already committed, a judge ordered they continue to be held in jail pending further criminal proceedings.
Let this be a lesson to criminals everywhere: if you really think you’re being covertly monitored by the FBI, the chances are high you’re probably right. Having said that, you should also take an afternoon to read up on how surveillance cameras actually work before deciding which course of action to take next. “Go outside and shoot at the expensive FBI camera with your gun” is not, nor will it ever be, the smartest play in this particular situation.