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Systems can help keep homes safe and sound

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 19, 2016

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METRO DETROIT — How protected is your home? 

October is National Crime Prevention Month, and police and security officials are encouraging homeowners to evaluate their home’s level of security. 

In December 2012, the University of North Carolina released a study that evaluated decisions to burglarize from the offender’s perspective. The results indicated that most offenders were deterred by alarms. 

Angela White, president of the Electronic Security Association — the largest trade association representing security and integration installers — said that this study looked at “legitimate security systems,” which are systems installed by a recognizable contractor, and not systems purchased and installed by a homeowner. 

The ESA has a research foundation that commissioned the study, she said.

“Statistically, we’ve proven through research that criminals will go on to the next place if there is a security system,” she said.  

Offenders, she explained, were asked if they were dissuaded by the sound of an alarm and by a posted alarm sign. The results were that each was a deterrent, she said. 

Home security is a layered system, and West Bloomfield Police Chief Mike Patton said security alarms and security cameras are the final layer.

Homeowners should first ensure their house has good locks on all doors and windows, and they should have a plan in place for when they’re not home, such as having a neighbor put away trash cans and pick up newspapers, Patton said. 

“I go through some subdivisions, and I can sometimes tell there is no one home, because garbage cans have been left out all day,” he said. “Have some signs of life inside the home.” 

Other “layers” include putting timers on lights, leaving out a dog’s bowl of water or leaving on a TV. Patton said that even if a homeowner doesn’t have a security system, placing a sign outside the house that alludes to having a system can be beneficial.

“It’s not 100 percent, but most breaking and enterings don’t occur when a home is occupied,” Patton said. 

The last line of defense is the alarm. If someone has “penetrated a physical space” despite precautions, this could trigger the alarm, he said. But preventing someone from kicking in the front door is the first and “smartest” step, he said.

“Alarms are good. Security cameras are good. Are they an absolute deterrence away from issues? No. The more layers you add on, it’s probably not a bad thing,” Patton said.

White said that the average consumer has no brand or design awareness when it comes to shopping for security systems, and because each system is customized based on a lifestyle or a budget, she said it is imperative that consumers do “their due diligence” and research contractors. 

Homeowners should confirm that contractors are licensed through the state or even check with their local government to see if there is a list available of reputable companies and contractors. When interviewing contractors, homeowners should make sure the company or contractor has insurance along with being licensed, she said. 

“Vetting the security person itself is, in my mind, the most important step for the consumer,” White said. 

Homeowners also should be in a position where they are comfortable describing what they want their security system to accomplish. White suggested that homeowners talk with their insurance companies to see if they will receive a discount for installing alarms.

“It’s usually 5 percent to 20 percent. … Every company is different, and it depends on the company and the install,” she said.

Once you have an alarm installed, your work doesn’t stop there. Patton said that alarms require maintenance and training. Kids and pets also have to be factored into the system setup. 

“You see a lot of advertising for alarms you can do on your own; some have merit. If in doubt, consult a professional alarm company,” Patton said. 

Many times when an alarm sounds, it is a false alarm, which costs law enforcement agencies time, money and resources. But, Patton said, if homeowners take care of their systems, that helps to reduce the number of false alarms and saves the homeowners money. Depending on the community, if a house has a number of false alarms, they could be charged. 

“I’d rather come out to 99 false alarms than not be there the one time we really need to be there,” Patton said.

When on vacation, Patton said, homeowners should have a list that details who can reset an alarm — friends or family — to minimize excessive alarm dispatches. 

“We take them all seriously. … We’re here to look out for the interest of the residents. That’s what we get paid to do,” Patton said. 

The communication portion of a system is key. Having the ability to connect your system to a cellphone is important, because you can be alerted when you forget to turn on an alarm or if you leave the garage door open, White said. If you can afford security cameras, she said, it provides “visual comfort” to homeowners.

Patton said that if someone is determined to break into a home, they will, and sometimes the criminal will be in and out of a house before law enforcement responds to an alarm. While local departments may have quick response times, he said sometimes there is a time delay from when the alarm sounds to when the security company alerts the police, if that’s the type of system in place.

But if a homeowner doesn’t have an alarm, that gives a criminal “a whole day to fool around inside the house,” he said. 

“Most often, people don’t want to have a conflict and they’ll do whatever they can to avoid the conflict. Make it hard for them. Make them work for it,” Patton said.