A common definition – Entry with the intent to commit petty theft, grand theft or any other felony.

Burglary is probably the most common crime committed in the United States.  The M.O.  ‘Method of Operation’ varies tremendously but generally it is considered a crime of stealth whether it be prowling an unlocked car, stealing from an open garage, shoplifting or entry for the purpose of theft of property from any home or business.  It is also entry into an occupied dwelling.

Periodically we are exposed to mailers, internet adds or television commercials touting the value of security systems.  My personal attitude toward these devices is generally positive.  I am always interested when folks do what they can to protect themselves and others from crimes.  It is an indication that they are interested in protection and willing to go a step further for the safety of their families.

Burglar Alarm Systems

An impartial evaluation

For a great many years, we have been aware of Burglar Alarm Systems, the most common being the large red bell on the side of a commercial building that normally went off in bad weather at three o’clock in the morning and would ring until someone turned it off several hours later.

Burglar Alarms Systems are filled with Pros and Cons, a few of which I will attempt to clarify for those considering making an investment.  My personal experience with alarm systems spans a thirty-five-year career in law enforcement followed by five years with the Linear Corp. a manufacturer of alarm systems both commercial and residential.  I do not and will not recommend any specific brand.

Facts:

  • A burglary is committed about every fifteen seconds in the United States.
  • A great many burglaries are never discovered by the victims.
  • A very large percentage of burglaries are never reported to law enforcement
  • Most burglaries are committed by juveniles.
  • Property loses, (theft) can vary greatly.
  • Property loses, (damage) can be considerable.
  • MOST BURGLARIES COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED.
  • It is an extremely rare occasion when a burglar is caught due to an alarm system.
  • Most burglaries are committed in the daylight hours.
  • Most burglaries are committed during the hours of normal school session.
  • An Alarm System can scare a burglar away.
  • Signs advising of an Alarm system can deter burglars.
  • The response time to an Alarm System on average is over twenty minutes. A burglar in a car driving thirty miles per hour can be ten miles away before the first patrol unit arrives.
  • In many areas law enforcement will not respond to an alarm unless the victim is present.
  • You can be fined for false alarms.
  • Less than ten percent of property taken is recovered.
  • The company monitoring the device does not respond, they notify law enforcement.
  • Monitoring services are costly.
  • Alarm Systems can be affected by power outages.
  • You can receive a lower rate on your homeowners insurance with some companys for having a monitored alarm system.

The above are just a few of the pros and cons based on F. B. I. statistics, and personal experience as a Patrol Officer/Deputy, Burglary Detective and Detective Sergeant.  During five years with Linear Corporation I advised Scientists who designed security systems to increase effectiveness and eliminate devices that were not effective.

Now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of security systems both active and passive.

Let’s go with the cheapies first.

Passive security systems start with the design of your home and landscaping.   Nothing against them personally but Real Estate Agents and Architects are not in their professions to keep your property safe.  Real Estate Agents are interested in location, location, location and visual appeal.  Opening the front door leads to step two and on down the line, “Oh, the previous owner did install a security system”, but they would rather not mention that, they do not wish to advertise that this might be a high crime area.  As a real estate agent, I lost some sales due to honesty!

Architects deal with the structure of the building, placement on the property and codes for construction and naturally the aesthetics of the building making it attractive to the occupant.  They are not particularly interested in the types of locks or deadbolts on the door and windows as those items may be picked during the construction phase by the contractor who might just be interested in saving a couple of hundred dollars in hardware.  Seldom is a home designed with a security system included since the price can be extremely high.  Quality commercial/residential units can easily run in excess of ten thousand dollars and an inexpensive unit providing the same basic level of security less than five hundred dollars OR a very effective self-installed system for less than ten dollars.

Ten Dollars for a Security System?

Absolutely!

Think about that and read on!

Preparation:

Before installing any security system, the reputable company, installer, technician will advise a ‘Walk around’ of the premises.  This is to determine the various points of access to a person attempting entry.  Then taking it back just about fifty feet or so, how visible is that possible point of entry from the street, sidewalk, neighbor’s yard, neighbors kitchen window etc.  Are there bushes under the windows, up the sides of the windows that block the view of a passing car or pedestrian?  Take turns standing in different locations around your home and actually looking to see if you can easily see another person standing in the shadows or close to a bush/tree.  These are conditions that some burglars take into consideration prior to attempting entry.

These are the areas you should be concerned with as SECONDARY entry points.  An alarm system should cover all of these potential points of access.  The primary entry point is the front or back door!

THE PRIMARY POINT OF ENTRY IN MOST BURGLARYS.

  • The most common entry point is the UNLOCKED front door.
  • Second most common entry point is the UNLOCKED back door.
  • Third most common point of entry is an open garage door followed by an unlocked closed garage door.
  • Lastly we go to unlocked windows.

WHY IS THE WORD UNLOCKED SO REPITIOUS?

Two reasons, first because it is easy and most importantly because it is QUIET,  BURGLARY IS AN ACT OF STEALTH.  Burglars do not like to make noise because it attracts attention, attention gets them caught, getting caught gets them a slap on the wrist!  Tch, Tch!  The vast majority of burglaries are via unlocked doors.  There are however many burglaries committed by simply retrieving the key from under the mat or the flower pot or the top of the door jamb or the mail box.  Don’t make it easy for these guys, whoops, and gals, yes women are getting into the business also.  They also have drug habits to support.

I have investigated many hundreds of burglaries and could count on one hand the number where entry was made by breaking glass, and those may have been accidental.  The same holds true for kicking doors to make entry.  It does happen but very rarely.  Mostly on TV.  Never say never!

Forced entry is generally made by prying a locking mechanism with a screwdriver or pry bar.  Vice grips or channel locks are very common tools used.

Entry via windows is generally made by sliding the window open, bathroom windows are very common but tend to be noisy due to the items commonly left on the window sill falling.

So a simple alarm system:

  1. Transmitter/receiver (Controller)
  2. Siren/alarm unit
  3. Three to five door window sensors
  4. Sign
  5. Phone line

For purposes of this paper I have added several items that are not really necessary but we will get to that.

The Transmitter/Receiver (Controller) is the main part of the unit.  It plugs into the wall and may have a battery backup.

The siren/alarm unit also plugs into the wall and may have a battery unit.  It is connected by wire or wireless to the Transmitter/Receiver.

The door/window sensors are a common switch mechanism.  They are activated when the door or window is opened when the alarm is active.  This unit is also wireless.  You must have one of these units at every possible point of entry that you wish to protect.  NOTE:  don’t even think about putting a sensor on an upstairs bedroom window that you would have to borrow your neighbors ladder to access.

Motion detectors.  This is another wireless unit installed in various places INSIDE the house.  They operate by detecting a HEAT source, when the heat source moves the alarm is triggered.  Now think about this for a minute.

If the Alarm System was turned on, you left, shortly after the burglar comes down the street and opens your unlocked door, whoops, and triggers the alarm and the siren goes off audible for at least a hundred yards for those of us with hearing aids and much further for younger folks and causes the burglar to mess in his/her drawers AND causes the Transmitter/Receiver (also called a Controller by some companies) to call the monitoring company who immediately calls you, but you left your cell phone at home, and then calls the police and they advise the nearest field officer available to respond who is twenty miles away.  As he starts toward your house, the burglar also walks by a motion detector, so what?  It could have been caused by your cat jumping onto a couch when fumble fingers opened the door.  This is why they invented the word redundancy.  A whole bunch of gadgets that do the same thing but cost a lot more money.

The chances of the crook getting caught, two, slim and none.

When you get home and the Officer completes his investigation and forwards it to a Detective, there now becomes a better chance that the crook will be caught.

The Nation Average for cases being closed by arrest is less than 10 percent.  I have had the privilege of working with a team of detectives that had a sixty plus percent closure rate for several months, that is a rare occurrence.

Alarm Companies supply a large variety of items all supposedly approved by Police Departments.  Sometimes like buying a car you have to stop and think about whether you really need that extra add-on that much and if you are not familiar with the design of cars the salesman can be the necessary influence to sell the item to you.

The above information relates to the cheapy (Thrifty) Security System that runs from a couple hundred dollars on special to well over a thousand dollars with a few add ons plus monitoring cost.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this system, generally the homeowner can install it in a matter of a few hours.  It does reduce the cost tremendously when someone is not trying to convince you that all the accessories are necessary.

If you want to upgrade to a better system the cost can go way up, many thousands of dollars.

You can now get into the solid state controllers that will handle up to a hundred separate sensors.  Linear made one that was installed in the White House.  These units will water your lawn as well as turn cameras on an off (even remotely).  You can go security poor in a heartbeat for some of this equipment.  They have glass break detectors that will record a small bird flying into a window and motion detectors with set ‘pet alley’s’ so your cat or dog does not set it off.  If your really need it, it is available just deal with a reputable dealer.

You have heard that your Insurance Company will give you a break on your rates if you have a security system?  Yes, they will, at least some will.  Most require that you sign a contract with the monitoring company for the period of time covered by the insurance and they will cover a small part of that cost.  There are lots of companies out there with lots of different programs so this is very general information.

NOW!

How can you safeguard your home for just a bit less than an arm and a leg and still feel reasonably confident that you well protected?

Keep in mind that if a burglar wants to get in he/she will whether you have used common sense protection or a twenty-five-thousand-dollar super system.

Back to what I said earlier about walking around the premises and identifying possible Points of Entry.  This is the time to carry a pad and pencil with you.  Jot down some notes about which trees and shrubs should be trimmed to provide better visibility as well as a better overall appearance for your home.  Locate those possible points of entry.  Windows first!  Can the windows be opened by sliding them horizontally?  If yes, make a note.  Does the window open from the bottom?  Make a note.  What you want to do with this information is take a tape measure from the inside open the window about three inches, then measure from the other side of the window to the window jamb.  You will want to cut a stick of wood that length and place it in the bottom of the window track.  ½” dowels work very well. That will prevent the window from being opened more than the three inches.   Without the wood stick in place attempt to lift the window up out of the tract.  If it can be lifted you will want to insert screws into the top track about every foot.  This will prevent the window from being lifted out of the track.

Sliding glass doors can be secured the same way.  Use a 1 inch dowel.

Motion detector lights, these are excellent choices for all sides of your home outside.  Especially areas with bushes.    The deer will get used to them!

Dusk to dawn LED lights, you can leave them on and give the home a lived-in look and they use very little expensive electricity.

Don’t leave your house key outside the house.  Forget the key under the mat, in the flower pot etc.  Bad idea!  If you really feel you need access for kids, neighbors etc. consider a digital electric combination locking mechanism with battery backup.  Very easy to install in an hour or so, including reading the instructions or three hours without reading the instructions.  Double the time if you are being micro-managed!

Never keep your house key and car key on the same key ring.

 Check your door handles, locks and deadbolts.  This is not included in the $10.00 but you may wish to purchase some heavy-duty replacements to go along with the digital electric combination lock.

The last thing you may wish to do is to carefully rake the ground under the windows where a burglar may walk or stand.  This is particularly important if the soil is loose and will hold a footprint and with a good soapy cleaner wash the window sills inside and out as well as the front and back door around the handle areas.  This should be done periodically.  This will help preserve any fingerprints that the burglar may leave.  Yes, burglars do wear gloves.  We used to check kids not wearing socks, funny how many carried them in their pockets.  Socks are commonly used in lieu of gloves.

After accomplishing the above, if you still feel concerned about your safety you at least have a better understanding of what you may need and can research equipment on line and you have not broken the bank to do it.

It is respectfully suggested that you read this material several times then pass it on to friends and neighbors.  Visit http:/ www.jeffersoncountrysheriffsfoundation.org for additional information about other areas of concern you may have to protect yourself and your family.  Hopefully with community support we the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Foundation Board of Directors will be able to continue o provide additional information on our web site.  Our goal is to make this site a never-ending project.  It is hoped that we will be able to fund (through donations) enough support to start a neighborhood watch type program in the unincorporated area of Jefferson County to benefit all citizens.

Contributed by:
Doug Henderson, Retired Sergeant, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
San Diego Police Department, Sycuan Tribal Police Department
President, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Foundation