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Security, law enforcement experts offer advice to improve protection

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Mike DuPre'
October 30, 2007
— Sue Koch felt violated and scared when she came home and found that her Bradford Township home had been broken into.

Her husband, Bill, was angry.


“And you just can’t help yourself from looking at every car that goes by and wondering why it’s going so slow,” he said of the apprehension that crooks might be casing their home again.


The Koches decided to invest in a home-security system. They chose the company that installed security systems for Bill’s employer because he is familiar with the company.


“It was a real creepy feeling—unnerving, unsettling—to imagine strangers walking around your home,” Jan Kucaba said of seeing the disarray left by burglars in her Johnstown Township house.


The Kucabas are considering a home-security system, but Jan acknowledged she doesn’t know a lot about them.


“It’s a whole new thing for me,” she said. “I don’t know what questions to ask. I’m depending on them (vendors) to be informative.”


Doing your homework, comparison shopping and choosing a knowledgeable, reputable home-security firm are crucial to protecting you, your possessions and lifestyle, said two members of local law enforcement.


All home-security workers with access to your home should be bonded.


More important, though, is paying attention to the basics, they said.


“Deadbolts, deadbolts, deadbolts—and use them,” stressed Sgt. Brian Donohoue, crime prevention specialist for the Janesville Police Department.


“An alarm is like an airbag,” said Paul Kremer, a Rock County deputy sheriff who presents programs on home security. “If you’re not wearing your seatbelt, it defeats part of the airbag.”


Don’t let an alarm system lull you into a false sense of security, the cops said. Make sure your property is secure before you install a security system.


Following are some common questions concerning home-security systems and answers from the law enforcement experts.


Q: What is the most basic home-security system?


A: Installing and using dead-bolt locks on all doors, including basement doors and doors from attached garages into homes.


If you are a new tenant in an apartment or other rental property, insist on the locks being rekeyed.


Keep garage doors closed and locked. Windows on all levels should be able to be locked securely.


All entrances should be lighted with at least a 40-watt bulb.


Keep bushes near the house and windows trimmed, or plant thorny bushes that are inhospitable to intruders or lurkers.


Q: How effective are dogs at preventing break-ins?


A: The sound of a barking dog can deter a burglar as can the sound of a radio or TV, but unless the dog is trained for security work, you can’t count on it to prevent a break-in. Dogs are trained to obey people, and burglars familiar with dogs often can get dogs to quiet down and obey them.


Q: Who should consider investing in a home-security alarm system?


A: It depends on your lifestyle and comfort level.


Collectors of valuable items might consider alarm systems. And while a single DVD is not expensive, a collection of 200 DVDs would be costly to replace.


Many modern electronic devices are light, easy to carry and easy to pawn.


Most antique furniture is heavy, but it’s also valuable.


Check with your home insurance agent. Installing alarms might reduce your coverage premiums.


If you have been victimized before, you might be more apprehensive. Many home-security systems have medical alert features, so you might consider one if you are elderly or have a life-threatening medical condition.


Single parents and parents of teens might want door alarms to alert them when their kids are coming and going.


People who travel often or are disabled and/or homebound might want extra protection.


If you’re building a new house, you might consider installing at least the wiring for a security system because it will be cheaper than retrofitting the house.


If you live in an older home with many windows, the cost of installing an alarm at each window—crucial for an effective system—might be prohibitive. If you have children or pets, a system with motion-detection sensors could create problems.


Q: What should a system include?


A: It should run on house electrical current with back-up batteries in case of a power outage. Outages should not trigger alarms. It should have a monitor to alert the homeowner of malfunctions.


It should have an audible alarm that can be heard in any part of the home and by neighbors and passers-by.


System components should meet standards set by Underwriters Laboratories. Internal wiring should meet all applicable building and electrical codes.


Warning decals should advertise your property is protected by an alarm system.


Q: How is 911 alerted?


A: By the company monitoring your alarms system. Home-security systems do not automatically alert the county’s emergency phone number. Your home-security provider should monitor your alarms and alert 911 if they are activated


Q: What do home-security systems cost?


A: The Koches installed theirs for less than $1,000, and they pay a monthly fee of about $30 for monitoring.


Some companies charge low installation fees but have high monthly fees to monitor the equipment they are leasing to you.


Adding window sensors, fire and carbon monoxide alarms and medical alert functions boosts the cost, said Mike Boyd, owner of Boyd Security Systems in Janesville.


Consumers should expect to pay between $500 and $1,000 for installation and $10 to $30 a month as lease/monitoring fee, Boy said.


Some jurisdictions charge for responding to false alarms.


After a 90-day grace period in Janesville, for example, the city will charge you on a sliding scale for responses to false alarms: $40 for the first in a calendar year, $60 for the second, $90 for the third and $125 for the fourth and subsequent.


Officers note weather conditions, and exceptions are made for false alarms triggered by severe weather.


HOME SECURITY TIPS

-- Secure all windows and sliding doors regardless of what floor they’re on.


-- Lock your home, even if leaving momentarily to walk the dog or do yard work.


-- Keep yards well lighted.


-- Do not leave purses and other valuables within view of windows. If your big-screen TV or other valuables must be visible through a window, install curtains and use them.


-- Keep your garage door closed and locked. Make sure the interior door to your home is locked and dead-bolted. Make sure your deadbolts are at least an inch long and are secured in strong doorframes and strike plates/lock receivers. Strike plates should be secured with screws at least 1.75 inches long. Make sure your exterior doors are solid, not hollow-core, composition board or light aluminum.


-- Don’t hide keys outside. Crooks know where to look for them.


-- Keep jewelry, coin collections and other valuables in a safety deposit box. If you keep them in your home, keep their value and location confidential.


-- Be cautious of strangers. When in doubt, call law enforcement. Burglars often check a home for occupants by knocking on the door.


-- Never allow anyone into your home unless you know the person. Demand credentials from anyone who shows up uninvited or for some task that will allow him or her into your home—checking your electrical box, for instance. If they can’t produce credentials, call law enforcement.


If they say it’s an emergency, offer to call 911 for them.


-- Do not reveal your name, phone number or address to unknown callers. Never admit you are home alone or say when you will be away from home.


-- Never leave notes that can inform a burglar that your home is unoccupied.


-- Set a timer to switch on lights. Don’t leave lights on 24 hours a day.


-- Know your neighbors.


-- When away from home, leave contact information with trusted neighbors. Have them occasionally park their car in your driveway. Have someone watch your house, mow your lawn in summer, shovel your snow in winter and pick up mail and newspapers. You can arrange with the post office and newspaper to temporarily halt delivery.



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