Burglary lessons to be learned

By thc0655 on Mon, Jun 18, 2012 - 8:20am


There's so much to learn for our own safety from "real life" crime.  Three masked men attempted a burglary in broad daylight at the home of Philadelphia area Congressman Bob Brady.  There are some lessons to be learned.
1.  This was a burglary attempt, not a home invasion.  The difference is in the criminal's intent and methods.  In a burglary, the criminal does not want the residents to be home to confront him.  He wants to get in, steal valuables, and get out undetected and unhurt.  In a home invasion, the robbers WANT  the residents to be home because they want the residents to show them where the valuables are and open any locked doors or safes.  There is going to be a violent confrontation and home invaders bring the weapons and violent intentions to overcome all the residents no matter how much they fight back.  When these three saw Mrs. Brady at the sliding glass door where they were trying to make entry, they were surprised and fled.
2.  This is a wealthy neighborhood so the burglars expected an alarm system.  That scares off most burglars, but these guys did enough prior surveillance to know where the utility lines came in and cut them before trying to make entry.  Cutting utility lines is very unusual in burglaries in general, but common in burglaries in wealthy neighborhoods.  This is a good reason to have an alarm system that is not connected to landlines, but uses cell phone technology to call the 
central monitoring station.  Note that these suspects were wearing masks and hoods -- video surveillance would've been of little to no use to police.
3.  The burglars went straight for the sliding glass doors in the rear of the house to make their entry.  If you have sliding glass doors, start there when upgrading your home's security.  A wooden dowel cut to length and dropped into the door channel is better than nothing but a quality channel lock is better.  Not only are the factory locks usually flimsy (easily pried open), the outer door can be lifted out of the track (uninstalled) even if there's a wooden dowel blocking the inner door.  Check out this site (just an example) and the kinds of locks available.  Buy and install the best/most expensive you can afford:     http://www.allaboutdoors.com/index.php?cPath=74_82
4.  The Brady's are well-known, high-income celebrities in the Philadelphia area.  They are the kinds of targets professional burglars with a lot of skills, knowledge and experience target for theft and burglary.  Therefore, they of all people should have the best security and well-laid anti-crime response plans.  I doubt the quality of their security and the adequacy of their plans if Mrs. Brady's response to having the power and TV cables cut and seeing three masked men in her backyard is to go toe-to-toe with them at the sliding glass doors!  Ok, she DID bang on the glass and I can assume she gave them a VERY disapproving look (and possibly waved a finger at them), but that wouldn't have done any good if violence and home invasion robbery/kidnapping had been in the suspect's plans!! If you haven't seen the movie "Fargo" you have to at least watch the scene where the woman of the house is frozen in fear and shock as she sees the two masked kidnappers breaking into her sliding glass door -- hilariously terrifying.  (The struggle that ensues is not so funny, but equally terrifying.)   My wife's response in Mrs. Brady's situation would've been to hit the alarm panic button, grab the nearest handgun staged for just such an occurrence, and take up a position of cover in order to shoot the first intruder through the door.  (Instead of preparing to shoot, running out the opposite side of the house from the attack is an option, but you risk running into additional suspects waiting for that predictable response.)
See, wasn't that fun learning?!  Do you see any other lessons here?  Do you have a recent crime we can learn from?


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% breakdown of burglaries vs home invasions?

Good stuff, Tom. Scary to see such prominent people being targeted (but understandable, I suppose).

Do you have a sense of how many home break-ins are burglaries vs home invasion?

My guess (and hope) is that home invasions are much rarer (like <5%), but I have no data or experience to base that on.

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Home invasion statistics

I would agree with you Adam.  Home invasions occur much less often than burglaries.  The FBI collects crime data nationwide and they don't distinguish between burglary and home invasion.  As a result, local police departments don't distinguish either.  If you want to get a ballpark estimate you have to accept guessing based on anecdotal experience.  My experience is in Philadelphia and my guesstimate is that home invasions occur at a rate of 5% or less compared to burglaries.  In my Police District, residential burglary is a near daily experience, sometimes 2 or 3 in 24 hours.  Multiply that by all the Districts and you get a crime so common it's not considered newsworthy by the media (unless the victims are celebrities! and even then they're usually not covered), is boringly common to police, and some victims don't bother reporting it.  Home invasions on the other hand probably only happen city-wide a handful of times/week.  That's comforting, but there are good reasons to be cautious and prepared, especially if you are at elevated risk for a home invasion, as I believe many readers here are.  

Home invasions are RISING against the falling trend of violent crime in general nationwide (down 4% in the most recent FBI compilation).  People who have the following characteristics should consider themselves at elevated risk for home invasion.

1.  People who are involved in a lucrative, ongoing criminal enterprise (e.g. drug dealers, owners/managers of illegal gambling operations, prostitution madames, etc.).  People committed to a violent criminal lifestyle frequent these kinds of "businesses" and will either know or suspect there are large amounts of money hidden at home away from banks and law enforcement.  The criminal can also expect that their victims will not be very cooperative with police increasing their chances of getting away scot-free.

2.  Wealthy individuals (and "wealthy" is defined in the eye of the criminal beholder) whose habits and home security indicate they would be easy targets for home invasion.  For instance, in the Philadelphia region we are seeing an increase in home invasions committed against wealthy Asian people.  They are surveilled, followed home, and attacked at gunpoint at their front door or in their homes by 3-5 armed men.  This is based on the often-true stereotypes about Asians: they keep large amounts of cash at home because they don't trust banks; they submit passively to violence; and they often don't cooperate with police effectively (usually because of language/cultural barriers, but sometimes because of legal or immigration issues).

3.  Anyone of means who is the object of a violent person's rage or hatred.  The owner of a McDonald's franchise who fires an employee for stealing might be targeted for home invasion if the fired employee is blind with rage and wants to get even.  If the terminated employee is disposed to violent crime he might easily assemble 4 guns and three co-conspirators and go to the owner's home late on a Friday evening when he has the week's receipts at home ready for deposit on Monday.  

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Alarm system signs

Tom -

That's extremely helpful perspective and the logic sounds very rational. Many thanks for sharing it.

I have a question about alarm systems. IMO, they're a good investment. But the police in my neighborhood have started warning that houses with signage indicating there's an alarm system installed are becoming targets of "snatch & grab" thieves. Basically, the signage is indicating you have valuables inside worthy of protecting with an alarm system. So the theives' plan is to break a door/window, grab what they can fast (appliances, computers, etc) as the alarm triggers, and be gone before the alerted police arrive.

What's your opinion? In your experience, does alarm system signage deter or invite buglary?

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Alarm signs



That's a good one, Adam, and bound to start a heated conversation anywhere it's brought up.  I imagine readers may weigh in on this on both sides.  It's a lot like asking what's the best caliber for a self-defense handgun or the best rifle.  In my wiki on "Personal Safety and Home Defense" I address the issue of alarm signage briefly.  What it comes down to is a series of compromises.  Signs are a definite deterrent, but the deterrent value drops in some circumstances, and in one scenario signs will work against you.  I have signs all over my house including second floor rear windows that are vulnerable only to someone athletic and determined.  In the end what it comes down to is personal preference after considering the advantages and disadvantages.

1.  Most burglars are amateurs and opportunists. They don't have real burglary skills and not much of a work ethic.  They're looking for something easy, even if "the take" isn't very impressive.  This is one reason so many homes in low income or even ghetto areas are the targets of burglary: it's easy.  I don't know how many ghetto burglaries I've been to where the only things taken were a video game console and a jar of coins.  So, for the majority of burglars like these, alarm signs indicate the job won't necessarily be easy or low risk.  Signs tell potential burglars not just that you have an alarm but that you are alert to the possibility of burglary and that criminals like them are roving around looking for targets.  That tells the burglar the inside of your house may have more unpleasant surprises in store for him because the alarm may not be the only precaution you've taken.  The burglar's biggest fear is that you will shoot or otherwise hurt him and a burglary alarm sign has to put at least a little doubt in his mind that the residents are armed and ready, and possibly home.

2.  While we're on the subject of armed defense to repel burglars/home invaders, signs have another advantage.  The homeowner can reasonably assume that a criminal who breaks into his home IN SPITE OF THE ALARM SIGNS:   a) is more determined than the average burglar, b) has reasons to believe he can succeed anyway, possibly because he's willing to use a weapon he possesses against the residents and c) may have violence in mind beyond or instead of theft of valuables.  This is even more true if your house is like mine in that in addition to alarm signs I have a few signs indicating the residents are armed and will defend the home.  Someone might wonder why that is an advantage for the homeowner since I've given away the fact that I possess weapons (duh! I'm a police officer) and I know I'm dealing with a more dangerous kind of thug.  It's an advantage if the unthinkable happens and one of use has to use deadly force in the home.  First, we will have no hesitation to shoot because, by passing all our warnings, the burglar has led us to believe he is a truly dangerous criminal. Second, if we have to go to criminal or civil court to defend our actions one issue our lawyer will raise in our defense is the signs and what breaking in could reasonably tell us about our adversary.  Judges and juries love that.

3.  The alarm sign is meant to deter any attempt at burglary.  If a thug knows you have an alarm and plans to smash a door or window anyway, grab whatever valuables he sees laying around in plain view, and run away obviously the deterrence has not worked, but deterrence is just your first layer of defense.  Your second layer is the sound of the alarm siren and strobe lights which causes the intruder to hurry through your house in 2-3 minutes or less.  Your third layer is not to leave valuables laying around where they could be snatched in a 2 minute rush through the house.  If you ever plan to leave your house unattended, you are conceding the quick smash and grab (which I imagine happens only slightly more often than home invasions).  Prepare accordingly.  You say the police in your area are noticing a pattern of these unusual break-ins.  I'm all in favor of adjusting to changing criminal behaviors, especially a localized and identified pattern.  Criminals are very much creatures of habit, and if they find something that works they usually repeat it over and over until they're caught (or killed).  Your pattern is probably being caused by one individual or a small group who have found something that works for them.  If you pull your signs down (at least for the duration of the local pattern) you will lose the deterrent effect of the signs but you may get that particular local crew to leave you alone.  However, the sounding of the alarm siren at the beginning of the burglary will still make them hurry through your house and it might cause some to be so surprised they just run away without going in.  It's personal preference based on balancing advantages and disadvantages.  (I'd stay in touch with those police officers to find out when that local pattern disappears and for any future intelligence.)

4.  In my experience with criminals, I seriously doubt seeing an alarm sign would be more than one small data point they would use in deciding if your place would be worth breaking into because of the many valuables inside.  Burglars focus on the general wealth of the community, the apparent value of your house/property, the value of your car(s), the way you are dressed, the way you earn your living, and other indicators of wealth to decide whether it will be worth it for them.  The only exception I can imagine is if you live in a low income neighborhood but you have high quality alarm system signs. Ghetto drug dealers often live in rundown $30,000 houses, drive a high end $60,000 car (e.g. Mercedes or Lexus) and have a major brand alarm system.  In that case, the signs WOULD confirm what the burglar suspects: cash on the premises.  If you live where yours is the only house with an alarm sign, that might attract attention.

5.  If someone lives in a rural area in which typical police response to burglar alarms is 10-30 minutes, the deterrent effect of the signs and the alarm is considerably reduced because the burglars can assume they have a pretty long time to work before they have to make their escape.  In that situation, reasonable homeowners sometimes surrender the deterrent effect of signs and sirens, and instead go silent and stealthy.  Some people give up the deterrent effect to gain a much greater chance of the police catching the burglars while they are leisurely collecting all your valuables, or maybe even emptying your whole house into a moving van.  This is done by hiding the fact that you have an alarm at all, and going to a silent system that notifies the police that a burglary has begun but gives the burglars no indication that your place even has an alarm.  They won't hurry and there's a very good chance the police will catch one or more of them.  (I "caught" one burglar sleeping on the couch!) Silent alarms also motivate police officers much better than audible alarms (and they are told which kind they're responding to when they get the assignment).  After a new police officer has responded to 200 burglary alarm calls, 197 of which are false alarms, his/her motivation drops dramatically.  The officer may even stop for coffee on his 12 minute, 65 mph trip to your alarm.  On the other hand, receiving a silent alarm call will get his/her adrenaline surging and s/he will drive 100 mph and get a lot more back up too.  Of course, you won't want to be home after accidentally tripping your silent alarm and being the one to "greet" those three deputies with shotguns or AR's (safeties off) and a big load of adrenaline surging through them!

6.  The only situation I would definitely recommend against alarm signs would be for a wealthy family in a wealthy community.  These are the kinds of people who attract professional burglars who have real skills, experience and knowledge and focus all their considerable skills on bringing down big scores.  Even the average criminal will already assume every home in Beverly Hills has a top quality alarm system so the signs are redundant.  A professional burglar may spend months picking a target and assessing its defenses and riches.  You can do that when you expect to rake in $1 million in cash, art, jewelry and whatever else.  Your alarm sign will tell the professional burglar the relative strengths and weaknesses of your system, and what countermeasures he will have to bring.  But the worst case is that the professional burglar may have someone inside your alarm company who he can ply with money or drugs to give him invaluable information on your system (up to and including your master code with which he could simply disarm your system as if he were you).  To help defeat professional burglars like that, I'd advise wealthy clients to put up an alarm sign but not from the company they actually use.  Secondly, I'd advise wealthy clients to have two complete overlapping systems from two different companies that preferrably don't know about each other.  Third, if you're going to have something like a million dollars in valuables at home I'd advise never leaving your home unattended by trusted family or employees (from maids to gardeners to armed security).

I bet some readers have additional considerations to keep in mind when making this decision...


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Thumbs Up!

This is the good stuff! Thank you so much for sharing! It's just awesome having a real cop giving real, experience-tested, practical advice.


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Decoy Strategy Within the Home

My wife's parents home was burglarized a dozen years ago.  The pattern the theives followed has helped us script what we do within our home.  They hit during a family dinner outing and the only room they hit was the master bedroom - high payoff area for jewelry, handgun, etc.  So assuming a similar strategy of the quick hit, we have a decoy safe in plain view as one enters our master bedroom and also a decoy jewelry box.  The assumption is that the grab-n'-go thugs would act in haste, grab the decoys, and be on their way.    

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home invasions/burglaries

ferfal wrote about home invasions at great length, as they were an ongoing problem during the collapse of argentina in 2001, and going forward. 

i expect, as we decline, that they will become more common in the us.

the best defense, imo, is to live an unassuming life in a quiet place without any display of wealth.  and, of course, the community connection - know your neighbors.

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Burglar alarms: what you would rather not know

Several years ago I became fascinated with the history of safe and vault construction (for academic reasons, of course).  This led me briefly into a study of commercial alarm systems.  It turns out that most residential alarms are just smoke and mirrors.  They remain effective because they piggyback off the reputation of well-designed commercial systems.  But in reality, commercial and residential alarms are two different animals.

First, the major weakness of residential alarm systems:

(1).  Many of the most popular systems are easily defeated, even by burglars without half a brain.  The popular lower end systems put the telephone dialer into the control panel.  They are useless.  To reduce call center traffic, ADT (for example) programs an additional delay into the alarm panel even after the 30-45 sec "time limit" is up.  Adding in time to establish a telephone connection, it can take almost two full minutes to dial in an alarm, and during this time a burglar need only rip the beeping control panel off of the wall to prevent the alarm from being sent.  Knowledge of this weakess has travelled fast in the state prison systems -- not so fast among oblivious homeowners.

(2). Almost no home alarm system presents a serious obstacle to anybody with half a brain.  Commercial alarm systems use a dedicated, electronically supervised telephone line to communicate with the alarm center.  If the phone line is cut, an alarm is immediately registered.

By contrast, a home alarm system becomes useless once the telephone wires are cut.  Some alarm systems have cellular backups, but cellular signal jammers can be purchased for just a few hundred bucks.

An intelligent burglar would bring a cell jammer on every job: not only will the jammer defeat any alarm system's cellular backup, but has the added bonus of preventing an undetected occupant with a cell phone from raising the alarm.  Considering how many people no longer have a landline, it could also delay nosey neighbors from making phone calls.

By employing the two simple steps of (a) cutting the phone wire, and (b) carrying a cell phone signal jammer, a burglar can defeat the remote signalling capacity of 100% of residential-class alarm systems, leaving nothing but the local alarm (i.e., the exterior bell or siren, in the unusual event that one has actually been installed).

My take: I don't have any alarm system myself, but if I ever saw the need to install one, I'd see a need to do it right.  Rather than satisfying yourself with platitudes  ("most burglars are amateurs . . . smash and grab . . . etc, etc."), consider the kind of professional cat burglar that operated in the United States up through the 1950's, the kind which inevitably re-appear whenever the economy deteriorates far enough that skilled people (like former alarm system technicians) are out on the street.  If the next 20 years will be unlike the last 20, then you must consider the class of burglar that may be common in the future

(1) The telephone lines must be guarded.  If the homeowner doesn't want to pay for a dedicated alarm line, then the telephone wires that will be used to transmit the alarm will preferably be underground.  At the very least, the telephone wires should remain internal to the house until they reach the roofline.  Without this basic precaution, a wire cutter and an inexpensive cell jammer are all that is needed to defeat the system.

(2) The local alarm (bell or siren) is often easily disconnected, where one has been installed at all.  It should be in an inaccessible location.  After the phone wires are cut (because the homeowner didn't follow step #1, above), the exterior bell is the only thing left.  If it can be quickly disconnected, or its power cut, then it's worthless.

(3) The touch panels must be physically separate from the control box containing the dialer.  The dialer box should be in a hidden location, preferably locked inside a stout sheet-metal cabinet with a metal wire conduit.  This will prevent a burglar from destroying the dialer assembly before it can signal the alarm.

(4) More PIR motion detector coverage is needed than is customarily installed in homes.  Installing motion detectors is time consuming for the alarm company, so they tend to instead recommend a surplus of equipment like door and window contact sensors which have a high profit margin but much less practical utility.  Look to commerical installations as models:  PIR (passive infrared) motion detector coverage isn't necessarily needed in every inch of every room, but there should be ample coverage, with double coverage of "key" areas like a hallway through which a burglar must pass.  There should always be PIR coverage in the basement if there is a bulkhead.

If you must choose a way to economize, then it might be better to forego the window and door contacts altogether (which are pure gravy to the alarm system installer, more easily defeated, and usually redundant in any case), and instead invest in truly adequate motion detector coverage for all interior spaces (possibly with separate upstairs and downstairs zones, for when you're at home), maybe a floor pressure sensor, and spend the money for an overall higher quality system.

(5) False residential burglar alarms are very common, and score low on the priority list of urban police departments.  If you think that a burglar alarm activation will bring a battallion of police racing to your house, think again!  On a busy night, an unconfirmed burglar alarm may bring no police response at all.  Take a minute, and you'll quickly see the reasons why such alarms are kicked to the bottom of the priority heap.

(a) Consider a service that will dispatch a private armed guard to the premises.  Often available in large urban areas, such plans usually call for a guard to arrive within 45 min.  The sad thing is that they'll often beat the police department.

(b) Consider installing the system in such a way that the monitoring station will be able to tell if more than one sensor has been activated.  Single PIR activation?  Possibly a false alarm.  A window break sensor activation followed by the actication of two successive motion detectors in different parts of the house?  Definitely not a false alarm.  This more detailed information can be conveyed both to you (by cell phone) and to the police department, and can have an effect on response time.

(6) Investigate the monitoring stations used by your alarm company, as much as possible.  Many large alarm companies, to increase profits, skimp badly on staffing.  This increases the number of minutes until the local police department is notified.  Furthermore, a good monitoring station will follow up with the local police dispatcher (see # 5, above).

(7) Make sure that high quality equipment is used.  There is a big difference between a cheap sensor, and a high quality one.  You get what you pay for.

(8)  Make a conscious decision between a true silent alarm system, and an audible alarm.  Many factors can go into this decision, but most residential alarms are a bad half-breed: they make enough noise to alert the burglar to the fact that the house is alarmed, but not enough noise to alert the neighbors.  If you want a silent alarm, then you should make sure that a burglar is completely oblivious to the fact that they have been detected, including putting the touch panels out of plain sight.  If you want an audible alarm, then be sure to install a loud siren or bell -- that way the alarm will still be of some use, even after phone lines have been cut.

(9) Finally, don't rely on the alarm system.  It is a lesson that commercial institutions learned long ago: burglaries are not random.  Even in a "random" burglary there are usually reasons why one house looked more attractive than another.

Signage is a deterrent.   But don't use a sign that reveals the real name of the alarm company.  As Tom observed, if you have the honor of ever attracting a professional burglar, such a sign immediately tells what type equipment you are using, and how to defeat it.

Conclusion:  Real professional home burglary has gone out of fashion.  Same with professional safebreaking.  The only people who rob the average house these days are junkies desperate for a few bucks.  Most home burglar alarms today are basically toys, with vital weaknesses (like No's 1, 2, and 3, above) left unaddressed. 

But there will again come a day when professional burglary pays, as it did in the 30's, 40's, and 50's.  When that time comes, if you do happen to see the need for a burglar alarm, then it might as well be a real deterrent.

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I have an ADT alarm with the cell phone communication. The transmitter is hidden very well. I have signage everywhere around my yard and on the windows. Signs are a deterrent in my view. At the very least, the alarm provides peace of mind at night when I am sleeping. If someone were to break in, whether they break a window where there is no alarm and I hear it, or going through the doors where that would trigger the alarm, at least I'd have time to react from my bedroom. As for during the day, I have my valuables locked in a safe in a secure area...bolted down, with extra, extra weights inside the safe. Good luck carrying that out as the alarm is going off. A tv is easily replaceable, metals and other valuables may not be.

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Thanks jrf29!


Thanks jrf29 for some excellent technical insights into alarms systems and the related strategic thinking you employed (comment #9)!  

1.  If you're going to get an alarm system, consider the issues jrf29 raised and do your due diligence on the systems and companies you're considering.  Not all residential systems are alike or designed with the same weaknesses.  My system, for instance, sends a signal to the monitoring center as soon as a sensor is tripped (eg. door opened, motion sensor tripped).  If the system isn't deactivated using a proper code in 30 seconds (which sends it's own signal to the center) the monitoring center calls the police. So, after cutting my phone line (my system is cell phone based) and kicking in my door you could destroy every component in my system in 30 seconds but the police will still be notified (eventually).  My previous landline-based system had the feature you mentioned in which the monitoring center calls the police as soon as the landline is cut.  Also remember that standard operating procedure for monitoring centers is to call the home themselves after alarm activation before calling the police.  This saves many false alarms to police, however it "wastes" precious seconds before police are called and dispatched.  It's cheaper to put the control pad and dialer in one package on a wall near your front door, but for the reasons jrf29 mentions the dialer should be hidden and secured in it's own steel cabinet in a relatively hidden location (and don't let people you allow into your house discover it by accident).  All that being said, I've personally never seen a burglary in which the criminals used any of the simple methods jrf29 describes to defeat the alarm system, nor have I heard of such a thing from another police officer.  It happens, but by far the great majority of burglars don't have the knowledge or the inclination to bother.  It will INCREASE everywhere in the future and it does happen today more often in wealthier communities than I deal with in my work in Philadelphia.

2.  Monitoring centers are a whole potential weak spot of their own.  You're going to have to do due diligence on this and salesmen aren't usually very knowledgeable or even truthful about these issues.  How busy each operator is on an average shift is one of the most important factors since you want YOUR call to be handled immediately and by an alert, intelligent, English-speaking operator.  Your monitoring center may be located less than 50 miles from your location, or it may be somewhere else in your country, or it may be in India or Bangladesh.  Your operator's computer may have 3 alarm activations ahead of yours for him/her to deal with first.  Harkening back to one of jrf29's comments, it would be wise to pick an alarm company whose monitoring system handles many of the banks and quality businesses in your area.

3.  Police response and ways to improve it are a good topic too.  Find out what information the systems you are considering give to police.  My experience is that some monitoring centers only inform the responding officer on his/her computer that it is a "general alarm" (not very useful or motivating).  Other alarms tell me what sensors have been tripped (eg. back door, living room motion).  This is much more useful (I'll go straight to the back door upon arrival) and motivating (that sounds like someone is actually there, not a false alarm).  A good way to improve police response after the monitoring center calls to tell you you have an alarm activation is to tell the operator to tell the police that you are responding to the alarm also and that you will arrive in about X minutes driving a blue Ford.  Once you arrive, unlock a door for the police and ask them to do a "walk through" of your house to make sure no one's hiding inside.  At all times, you should have a good friend or family member who can do this for you if you if you can't do it yourself (eg. maybe you're on vacation or can't leave work).  Two of my neighbors have keys to the front of my house but no alarm code.  If I can't respond I'll call one of them to respond and give them a temporary code to shut the system down.  When I get home, I'll replace that code with a new one.  In my experience, owners (or a representative) only meet us at their property about 5% of the time.  That communicates to the police that you don't care much about the property or the alarm, even though the officer has potentially risked his/her life to respond to it.  If you don't care, we don't care!  After responding to your own alarm, if you want to further your chances of strong police response in the future, try a little friendliness and a simple "thank you" after they're done.  And make sure the monitoring center has an up-to-date list of names and phone numbers of people to call when the alarm is activated.  I'm shocked at how many monitoring centers cannot get in contact with even one person to notify about the alarm activation.  That information is communicated to police also and it's a big demotivator.  A wealthy person might consider hiring a private security firm to respond to alarms, as jrf29 suggests, but a 45 minute response time is quite long.  Think of how secure your valuables would have to be to not be found or accessed in that amount of time.  Only the best of safes would last that long, for instance.  A guarantee of 15-20 minutes would interest me if I was wealthy enough to hire private security at all, and even then I'd want to meet a few of the security officers and assess their actual ability to respond to armed intruders until police arrived.  I'm not going to pay $100/month to have Barney Fife show up to my alarm with his one bullet!

5.  My next upgrade will be to install a silent video surveillance system (just 3-4 cameras) that is not monitored by anyone except me (on a smart phone).  The system will send me a text alert when any camera detects motion and then I can check the views on my smart phone.  That way I can call the police myself and give them a description of the intruders.  The cameras will record securely off site to prevent destruction by a knowledgeable burglar and to be used in court as evidence.  But first I have to get a smart phone!!



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Excellent points

All excellent points, Tom.  Thanks for the insight about what motivates police officers.  It's common sense once you think about it, but its easy to forget to walk in others' shoes.

Also, a good point about arranging to have somebody let officers in.  You're probably right: going to your house yourself, or having a friend be on the spot with a key is preferable to an expensive (and possibly ineffective) guard service.

thc0655 wrote:

"I'd advise wealthy clients to have two complete overlapping systems from two different companies that preferrably don't know about each other."

This is a procedure I've heard recommended for museums and art gallaries protecting multi-million dollar collections.  The same set of interior sensors will be wired to two completely separate control panels, maintained by two companies unaware of each other's identities.

Of course, a person that wealthy would be dealing with professional burglars who know ahead of time what they are after, and who have the connections to fence it.  You can't exactly sell a Renoir painting on the corner of Main and State St.  The average homeowner has an enormous advantage over a museum or a large estate: they have the luxury of being anonymous, and even if they weren't anonymous, they don't have much worth taking.

thc0655 wrote:

"All that being said, I've personally never seen a burglary in which the criminals used any of the simple methods jrf29 describes to defeat the alarm system, nor have I heard of such a thing from another police officer."

It definitely happens (e.g., see here and here).  I notice that both of these accounts are in the Chicago area.  This regional variation in popular burglary techniques feeds into what you were saying earlier: most burglars are not very motivated or creative, and simply do what they know (or have been told by their friends) works.

thc0655 wrote:

I don't know how many ghetto burglaries I've been to where the only things taken were a video game console and a jar of coins.

You're forgetting the inevitable cans of beer from the fridge.

thc0655 wrote:

"My next upgrade will be to install a silent video surveillance system (just 3-4 cameras) that is not monitored by anyone except me (on a smart phone).  The system will send me a text alert when any camera detects motion and then I can check the views on my smart phone."

Personally, I wouldn't like the idea of images of my house floating around cyberspace.  But it's a good idea from a public service standpoint; you could be saving dozens of neighbors from a similar experience.

You're in a big city where burglary happens constantly.  By contrast, my exerience has been in rural New England at a DA's office.  In our county, most weeks there are no B&E's at all (not counting angry girlfriends who storm into their boyfriend's house to snatch the car keys, etc).  When there is a string of burglaries, it inevitably turns out to be the work of one or two kids (mostly local addicts who have finally gone off the deep end on a binge; fortunately meth hasn't yet taken root).  It's amazing the number of houses or cars that one addict can break into in one week.  The break-ins stop once they are arrested, so you know it was them.  Take even one of these people off the street long enough to get them back into this solar system, and you'll save a lot of good people a big headache.


Aaron M's picture
Aaron M
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2373
Excellent advice

Tom and JRF,

You guys have brought forth some really important information to consider. 
I'd like to offer up a few tidbits from my own experience:

1. You are probably not going to be a random target.

It might be because someone knows you just got settlement check. Maybe someone knows you just bought an expensive TV. Nothing brings crooks running to your residence to steal your things quite like guns (which instantly opens them to upgrade "Burglery" to "Armed Robbery"). 

It might be the car you drive, the way you dress, or where you hang out, but it's probably not random. 
More likely than not...

2. It's going to be someone who you know, or are less than three degrees of seperation from. 

The common theme I've seen amongst burgleries is that more often than not, you're being victimized by:
a. Someone you are related to, or know very well, or;
b. Someone who has been tipped off by someone in point a.

Since none of us like to admit our kin are low-browed miscreants bent on picking the lowest hanging fruit first, we often sing lullabyes about how they wouldn't rip us off to help us sleep at night. Chance are, they would, and will. If they haven't already. Especially if there are drugs involved. 

Be careful who you tell about your possessions. Gold and Silver should never be discussed... especially if their value is being discussed, too. Guns - likewise - and in triplicate. Gold and silver won't be used in other crimes. Keep your living modest. Don't go overboard with big TV's. Even if you think it's too heavy to carry out. 

3. Your possessions say a lot more about you than you think.

The people who would be casing your place know the difference between hood rich and living on credit. They also know they can turn the stuff you bought on credit into about 1/100th of its actual worth by stealing and pawning it. Bars in the windows is a tell. Nice cars. Clothing. Your choice in decorations and electronics.

These things all paint a picture of you a guy in a phony Comcast uniform can pick up after standing in your doorway for 2 minutes, bluffing you about a really super service. Keep yourself modest, and orient your valuables away from windows. Don't be too ostentatious. 

Also, if you're a "personality" of some sort, don't announce it all over the place. 
It just attracts attention, and attention extracts knowledge. 

Hopefully this helps the already very useful information presented by the others.


Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
good points, Aaron

Very good points. May I add  don't leave out neighbors; count them as "people you know." Years ago my sons saved up and bought a Sega Genesis game system and made the mistake of telling the kids in our neighborhood about it. We had a break in and it--and only it--was stolen.

So don't go a-bragging if you know what's good for you. To family members, neighbors, co-workers. It also helps if you are not living a consumerist lifestyle: there's less to steal and less incentive for armed robbery.


Nathan Ecker's picture
Nathan Ecker
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 20 2012
Posts: 1
Low profile vs. Visible threats

I've been thinking whether it's better to show a low profile or to have a lot of visual threats which might discourage potential burglars. Showing off is as bad as inviting thieves at home but even if people don't know what's in your house they could still try to rob it. I've heard good things about having a home alarm system or at least the fake window stickers and yard signs. I'm not sure there's a way for burglars to know whether security signs and stickers are real or not. Maybe the fake ones are just as good as the real ones, but the reality is that home security doesn't cost nearly as much as it used to. Doing a couple quick searches in Google and I see several systems that are offered for free and you only have to pay for the monthly monitoring cost. What would be even more interesting is if one could purchase a low cost system and monitor it himself. Any ideas if there's something like that on the market?

joesxm2011's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 16 2011
Posts: 259
self installed security


The ones that give it for free and then charge for monitoring only give you a base unit and a couple of sensors.

Check out SafeMart.com.  They sell various systems that you can install yourself such as GE Simon XT


The base unit is relatively cheap, but it can add up depending on home many sensors you get and if you get expensive sensors like motion detectors.  You should get a cellular GSM module so your Simon can connect without worrying about phone wires getting cut.

They can also hook you up to alarm.com which allows you to see your system status on the web and can send you text messages if your sensor trips.  You can also get human monitoring from a company called Central Station.  If you want to go for a little more you can get LiveWatch cameras or home automation.

However, for cameras if you are not concerned with uploading your pictures to keep the criminal from destroying them along with your DVR, you can go to one of the wholesale clubs and buy a DVR with 8 cameras for about $450 from a company like Lorex.  These can hook to your Internet so you can watch from a PC or your smart phone.

BTW - if you don't want to subscribe, Simon can dial the phone an call you.

Michael Chadwick's picture
Michael Chadwick
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 7 2013
Posts: 1

Nice work, dude. Indeed we have learnt quite a lot from this articulated piece-of-work. Though we are not celebrities but still we have the right to worry about the security of our home and our family. We should give proper consideration when it comes to picking out the right security system. I would suggest one should always go for wireless camcorders as they are much reliable than others.

Travlin's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 15 2010
Posts: 1322

Welcome to the forums Michael.  There is a lot of good information here.


capesurvivor's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 12 2008
Posts: 963

Hi not here much but thought I'd pass this on. One of my neighbors here in middle class ville mentioned to one of our mutual neighbors who supposedly is  " in recovery" that her son had ADHD. Our friendly neighborhood addict broke into her home and stole his stimulant meds! Nice.

Opsec  is a never ending hassle.

Hunde1950's picture
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 1 2014
Posts: 2
It was a thoughtful and

It was a thoughtful and informative article. <a href=”http://www.alarmforce.com/“>I have a home security system installed by the AlarmForce Video relay team from Toronto , Ontario.  With this system,i  can see and speak to whoever is at your front door through your smartphone, while the inside of your home is protected with AlarmForce’s live two-way voice home alarm monitoring. These two services bundled together give you the optimal protection for the inside and outside of your house.</a> But rather than relying on electronic gadgets, we must  use our common sense also. Playing an auto tape n setting timers for the lights and lamp are two things that can be done. You can also ask your  neighbors to keep your front yard clean so that the ones trying to break in get an impression  that the occupants might be back home.  

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