Securing Your Castle
Keeping the Bad Guys Out
is a hot topic these days. It seems that residential crime has spiked significantly in the Far North Dallas area of late. Theories abound as to the reasons for this:
- North Central Patrol officers have been diverted south into areas of Dallas experiencing a spike in drug crime
- The criminals somehow know this and are taking advantage of the gap in patrols
- The crime spike coincides with the abundance of roofing replacements this year
- The roofers are to blame for the crime as they case the neighborhood while doing their day jobs
- Kids. It’s those darned kids
- Gang activity
- And on, and on and on…
Until we catch and lock up some of them we won’t know for sure, but it certainly is entertaining to watch the self-proclaimed pundits expound on this topic.
But does the cause really matter?
Not in terms of deterrence. You want to make your castle far less appealing to the scum responsible for this recent wave of mayhem. So how, exactly, do you accomplish this?
You want to make your home look like there is either nothing to be gained
or attempting to get it would be far too hazardous to mess with.
To that end you want to implement the following:
To thwart the bad guys I recommend these tips:
- If you have an alarm system, USE IT.
- If you don’t have an alarm system, GET ONE – and USE IT.
(This will not stop the bad guys from emptying your garage…)
- Lock the door from your garage to the house and put a key for this door on a key ring stashed someplace discreetly in the garage so you can’t lock yourself out.
- Put the garage door remote that clips to your visor in a drawer someplace in the house in case you ever need it.
- Buy a keyfob remote for the garage door opener that will always be on your keychain – and therefore, always with you.
(note to men – don’t keep this in your pocket when you are home. You can inadvertently open the garage door and leave it that way.)
- Put your vehicle registration papers in your purse, wallet, or better yet, photograph them with your phone and file them safely away at home. NEVER keep these in your car. It’s an easy way to get your address.
- Be vigilant. Pay attention to your neighborhood. If you see vehicles around that are not usually around, driving slowly, parked and occupied for any length of time, driving at night with no lights, etc., CALL THE POLICE. They would rather run off or snatch up some burglars than come take B&E reports later.
- Light up your home like DAYLIGHT. Seriously. Front, back, sides, driveway – all of it. Use the highest wattage Daylight LED bulbs you can find and LIGHT IT ALL UP.
We have recently implemented the above list just for this purpose.
Centrally monitored alarm system.
In spite of some issues I have had, I do like Vivint for these reasons:
- It can be installed wirelessly. No need to run wiring and contacts throughout the house
- Very little time required for install and configuration
- Lots of options (locks, thermostat, fire alarm, video cameras, etc.)
- Great smartphone app
- Reasonable monthly cost
- Nice interface for the wall panels
Residential burglaries usually occur when people are at work and school. Lighting won’t help this. Car break-ins and vandalism generally occur at night, so LOTS of light makes a big difference in discouraging this kind of activity. It needs to be implemented on a Neighborhood basis. Light the whole neighborhood up like daylight and the crooks will head somewhere else. I cannot stress alley / driveway lighting enough. I do NOT recommend motion sensor lights. Always On is better. We have 5,000 lumens of light in our carport along with a motion detector that sets off an alarm inside the house. It is pretty simple to bypass the motion detector in security lights to make them Always On.
If you have a regular schedule (school / work / dropping the kids off at school) you are a prime candidate for a residential burglary. It is common practice for burglars to survey a neighborhood (case the neighborhood) and figure out the schedules for places they want to hit. When all associated vehicles for your home are gone, they assume you’re away and break in. Another current ploy is to break into your car and toss it. They take your garage door opener and wait for you to be gone. They now have easy access at least to your garage, as these are rarely protected by alarm systems. Breaking into your car in a public area, stealing your garage door opener and getting your address from the registration in your glove box is also a popular approach.
I have written quite a bit about this in another blog, so go there for links on great products and great prices – but here’s the thumbnail sketch:
Burglars work day and night. At night, they prefer to work in the DARK. Therefore, if you light up the exterior of your home like DAYLIGHT, they will move on to someplace less bright to do their dirty work.
- Keep your porch lights on.
(if everyone in your neighborhood does this, but bad guys will go to another neighborhood)
- Put in the brightest LED bulbs you can find.
(this makes it less desirable to the bad guys while cutting your electric bill)
- Light up your driveway / carport with the brightest LED fixtures you can find.
(motion-sensing is OK, but always-on is better)
As I said before, security is more about psychology than creating a fortress. Criminals regularly steal trucks and plow through security gates and brick walls to drag away an ATM. They feel certain the risk is worth the reward. Some signage works especially well. I personally like having NRA Life Member decals at the front and back doors. I also have signs that state “Nothing in here is worth your life.” Most relatively bright burglars will want to go anywhere that is less overtly hostile.
Another favorite of mine reads:
Click on the sign above to order yours.
I am pretty partial to these two as well.
You might want to take them to the range and add some custom perforations prior to installing them
(helps to reinforce the point)
The nice thing about these signs is you don’t even have to read English to get the message.
Surveillance Camera Systems
I have designed and installed surveillance systems for over 30 years. My equipment is strictly commercial grade and comes from a wholesaler in Florida that I have worked with for a long time. My opinion of the do-it-yourself camera systems is that they are worth a little less than what you pay for them. These inexpensive systems make you feel good, but when the rubber meets the road they fail. Under low light conditions (like when your car is vandalized in the dark) you will have no remotely usable footage to help the authorities locate the criminals. Basically, you get what you pay for. So the question is: How much is all the stuff in your house – and maybe your life – worth to you?
The elements that make a difference
- DVR frame rate (anything less than 30 fps is useless in the dark)
- Number of channels (cameras) the DVR will support – plan for expansion.
- GUI or Interface for your DVR (some are terrible and it will take you DAYS to find an event)
- Storage space for your DVR (you need enough to go back in time and find historical evidence)
- Interface format (IP camera or conventional Video) – video is better than IP
- Internet accessibility
- Smartphone app interface and functionality
- Camera sensor size (bigger is better)
- Sensor sensitivity (measured in lux)
- Low-light capacity (same as lux)
- Mechanical zoom range (digital zoom is worthless in low light)
- Mechanical focusing ability
- Weatherproof design
- Infrared capabilities (Infrared cameras are mandatory in low light)
- The amount of artificial light present and the distance before fall-off
The location of your cameras, where they are pointed and how far they are zoomed in – along with where they are focused will play a big role in gathering evidence. Overhead cameras at your doorway only help you determine the kind of hat worn by the person who just broke into your home and emptied it out. Chest level entryway cameras are mandatory if you want to be able to ID someone.
You need to provide LIGHT for your cameras to work well at night. Counting on infrared is not a great solution. You cannot tell colors or even get great facial recognition with infrared. Full color with lots of light is your best choice. This is what I provide for all my installations.
Cable quality is also crucial when doing these installations. The newest HD cameras require high end cabling or they simply will not work. You cannot buy cheap prefab cables for these cameras. If you do, you’ll get it all installed only to find nothing works. Then you will need to re-pull all the cable.
Cable should be run through the attic. It is very time consuming and more expensive, but cannot be tampered with. Smart criminals will case your home and come in through any blind spot to cut exterior camera cables stapled up against the walls. This leaves you blind.
And just in case you think I’m a crackpot (I’ve been called worse) this article by another consulting company goes over the limitations of surveillance cameras in great detail. I’m trying not to inundate you with more information than you need. They are going the other way and I appreciate their in-depth explanation.
Put together a motion sensor at all exterior perimeter locations where someone would attempt ingress. Connect them up so tripping any sensor triggers a recording of a snarling, barking rottweiler through a realistically loud powered speaker system. Most burglars will be headed for some quieter location in great haste. You could always just get a Rottweiler – but then you’d have to feed him and walk him and…
Then there is this:
Or you could sleep on a chaise lounge in the driveway with a 12 gauge and a pit bull…
And on the personal protection topic…
Protecting yourself against physical attack is another matter altogether. To quote from Dirty Harry: “A man has got to know his limitations.” This applies to women as well, of course. Before you decide on a method of personal protection, you need to carefully assess your own nature and capabilities.
There are many choices:
- Hand-to-hand combat (if you’re a well-trained boxer or martial artist, go for it.)
- Pepper Spray
- Knife (only those with a lot of training should even consider this)
- Firearm (Unless you have trained well and handle stress like a pro, this may result in more collateral damage than prevention.)
To someone trained in self-defense, everything is a weapon. You may have to get creative. Always be hyper aware of your surroundings, people in cars, between cars, loose dogs, wild urban animals, etc.
The thing you always want to avoid is collateral damage. You do not want to cause any amount of harm to innocent bystanders – or yourself. Implementing an appropriate amount of force to neutralize the threat is your goal without overkill (both literally and figuratively) / overreach. As an example, if you decide to stop your attacker with a .44 magnum, you have to consider the bullet may go through your attacker, the house across the street – and kill a sleeping child in the house across the alley. Likewise with pepper spray, NEVER fire it into the wind. You must always be UP-wind from your attacker. Otherwise, you will receive a big blast of pepper spray into your own eyes / olfactory system and disable yourself. This is at best counterproductive and at worst fatal.
What you don’t want to do is whip out your weapon of choice in an emergency and have it taken away and used against you. To that end, being trained – and observant works in your favor. Being untrained and oblivious works against you in a big way.
If you opt to protect yourself with a firearm, I highly recommend tactical training before carrying it. The Texas Concealed Carry (now License To Carry or LTC) only requires you be able to hit a paper stationary target at pretty close range with fairly poor accuracy. When your adrenaline is up, all of this goes straight to hell. Regular range time should be considered mandatory if you plan on carrying a firearm for protection. Also, select something comfortable in your hand with decent stopping power. Anything less than 9mm is not a great idea. .40 Cal is probably the best compromise for size, number of rounds and stopping power.
Pepper spray is an excellent choice for non-lethal protection. My wife and I carry these when walking our dog, primarily to protect against aggressive loose dogs, bobcats or coyotes. Encounters with any of these is unlikely, but has happened in the neighborhood, so this product falls into the “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it” category.
This particular brand and model is optimum and affordable. Get a practice cylinder with it and spend a little time getting used to the way it works before carrying it. This will stop a charging rottweiler at 10 feet, but you need to be accurate – and ready at all times. There is a big difference in potency of personal protection sprays (Pepper Spray and Mace). I have selected the Sabre Red model because of its potency and compactness, combined with range. Again, NEVER fire this into the wind. You MUST be upwind of your attacker to use pepper spray or you will end up the ER.