House Broken Into - Looking for Advice on a Security System
June 8, 2006 10:35 PM   Subscribe

Our house got broken into today. We're thinking the seemingly inevitable thoughts about getting a home security sytstem. So, a couple questions: 1. Are we just overreacting (aka, is getting a security system a bad idea). 2. For anyone who has an experience - any thoughts on which is best and what to avoid? The previous owners of our house had a system by Edison Security, so in particular any experience there would be helpful. I guess we're thinking, at this point, (maybe cooler heads will prevail in the morning) about an electronic style system with an alarm that is sent out if it is tripped. And maybe a dog? Thanks.
posted by krudiger to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Having been the victim of a home invasion, I can say that in the first few hours and days following it you can't help but feel like you need better security. I think better security systems can't hurt. But any solution you take should be dictated by how the crooks got in. In my case, it was essentially my mistake, and I learned from it. We got deadlocks too.

If however, you have already done all you can do from keeping unwanted people out, and they still got in, better security would appear to be a must.

I think a big dog is a great idea. My parents live in a bad neighbourhood, and their neighbours have had people break in numerous times. My parents have never suffered from a break in once, though. I suspect that it is largely due to the fact that they've always had a big German Shepherd which makes its presence known. If you were thinking of breaking in, a big dog with big teeth would be a massive deterrent, I think.

I'm sorry you were robbed. I hope all goes well for you in any insurance claim you may file.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:36 PM on June 8, 2006

I hope this won't sound condescending, but remember that it's too late to do anything now about what's already happened. You're probably not in any more danger now than you were before the break-in occured, it just feels like you're far less secure because your security has been breached.
posted by clockzero at 11:40 PM on June 8, 2006

You have my sympathy. Our apartment was broken into about 10 years ago and while we didn't lose anything large -- it was a smash and grab by kids -- we did lose some sentimental jewelry and most of our music collection, plus I was really shaken up for a while.

We have an ADT system with cellular backup now, and find the peace of mind associated with reducing (not eliminating) the risk is worth $40 a month. So no, I don't think you're overreacting.

There are a few good Ask MeFi threads about home security that you should also look at: 26383, 19093, 33021, 21669, 27947.
posted by rosemere at 11:56 PM on June 8, 2006

I hope this won't sound condescending, but remember that it's too late to do anything now about what's already happened. You're probably not in any more danger now than you were before the break-in occured, it just feels like you're far less secure because your security has been breached.

Some thieves will return if the pickings were good the first time around, they're brave/stupid enough and they think you'll have replaced everything with insurance money. Happened to my mom's tenant, but he was at least partly to blame because his job required him to be away from the house for weeks at a time. YMMV.
posted by juv3nal at 12:36 AM on June 9, 2006

In my humble and uneducated opinion, good motion-activated nighttime outdoor lighting is going to do as much or more than any kind of security system proper. And it doesn't cost recurring monthly fees, nor does it trigger false alarms, nor does it require professional installation, nor does it require the drugery of disarming something constantly. A lot can be done with just some flood lights and motion sensors from your local hardware store.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:39 AM on June 9, 2006

Security system, in terms of alarms etc? Never been a fan. They don't generally stop people breaking in. They don't do much to help catch the crooks. They don't slow crooks down that much. And they don't do that much to help you if you're in the house at the same time. And you can guarantee it will go off at 2am one time when you're away on vacation and you'll return to pissed off neighbouts.

However, making your home secure through security doors, windows screens, deadlocks, and hell maybe even a dog. That's a much better idea. Make sure your home doesn't look like a target - big fucking bars on the windows and a rottweiler is a greater deterrant than a little flashing blue light.
posted by Jimbob at 1:18 AM on June 9, 2006

I agree with Rhombird regarding the sensor lights too. A simple method of scaring people away once again - if your house is lit like a christmas tree when they step in the front yard, they might go away and try another house with more dark places to hide.
posted by Jimbob at 1:19 AM on June 9, 2006

In my humble and uneducated opinion, good motion-activated nighttime outdoor lighting is going to do as much or more than any kind of security system proper. And it doesn't cost recurring monthly fees, nor does it trigger false alarms, nor does it require professional installation, nor does it require the drugery of disarming something constantly.

I've known several families robbed in day light hours. People let their guard down. As far as disarming, coming home and putting in a few numbers is not drugery. I don't even think about it. Put keys on table, put in code. Our fee is 20 bucks a month. I spend more on coffee. And we actually saved more money on our insurance than the monthly fee.

There are a lot of benefits to a home security system not even being discussed here. If someone waits by your door at night attempting to grab you and take you inside, it could save your life.

I'm not saying it's the be all/end all, and it's not a match for a professional job, but it does help. If it brings you peace of mind, there's no reason not to do it. Flood lights and motion sensors don't compare.

They don't generally stop people breaking in.

Generally? Got any stats to back that up? As a child my home was broken into twice. Both times I promise you they would have skipped our home if we had a security system.

They don't do much to help catch the crooks.

So what? That's like saying bear repellent doesn't kill the bears. It's not the purpose of the system.

They don't slow crooks down that much.

Sure they do. I'll give you two houses to rob, one alarmed, one not. Which is quicker, everything else being equal?

And they don't do that much to help you if you're in the house at the same time.

If they got in while the alarm was not on, sure, not much help. Although even them they have a one touch button for police/fire/ambulance. Much quicker than calling.

From your comments, I really don't think you have much experience with home security systems jimbob.

big fucking bars on the windows and a rottweiler is a greater deterrant than a little flashing blue light.

You can pay 20 bucks a month for something non obtrusive or you can buy a dog, which is great if you want one, and you can put giant bars on your windows. Just beautiful. Of course, if you go on a week vacation you'll have to put the dog at a kennel, which kind of defeats the purpose (not to mention the rate at a kennel will dwarf your monthly fee).

And if you think a security system is a flashing blue light, you really do have no idea what you're talking about.
posted by justgary at 1:50 AM on June 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

As far as a big dog goes, on the show 'To Catch A Thief' the robber deters the dog every single time...usually with food. The dogs are always willing to love the guy feeding them.
posted by nadawi at 2:06 AM on June 9, 2006

If you get a dog to guard your house, instead of because you really want a dog, you and the dog are probably going to both end up unhappy. An alarm system will be cheaper than taking care of a dog, and it won't pee on your carpet or chew up your furniture.
posted by Sirius at 2:40 AM on June 9, 2006

I live in London's East End, and when I purchased my flat here in 2001 had some huge honking bars put on all the ground floor windows and doors.

I favour bars over a security system as there is a one time fee - I'm frugal! My bars cost about 600 pounds, and were custom made.

While they are not foolproof (a common method in New York to foil such defenses was a car jack) I've got peace of mind especially sleeping at night with the ground floor windows opened. Also, security is all relative: only a few of my neighbours have taken similar precautions and the criminals will almost always go for the easy pickings.

(unless, of course, they've got a reason to target your flat which brings me to my second rule: keep a low profile; don't let peopls know what got)
posted by Mutant at 4:03 AM on June 9, 2006

of the burglaries for which the time could be established, most (62.2 percent) residential burglaries occurred during the day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
That includes non-residential buildings, which were mostly broken into at night.

IANAB, but if I were, I'd probably look for places to break into in the daytime, as justgary's friends experienced. Think about it - houses are more likely to be empty of people in the daytime. That includes any neighbors who might notice my flashlight in the house, or lights on when there shouldn't be, or the noises I might make in the quiet night hours.

Motion sensor lights are a good idea, but don't add anything in the daytime. If you could tie those motion sensors to a tape of a big barking dog, that might help.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:19 AM on June 9, 2006

Cancel that part about including non-residential buildings. Need more caffeine.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:20 AM on June 9, 2006

Get a security system. Put the logo in the window. Get dead bolts for all the doors.

Your house is a target, and your current level of security isn't enough deterrence. Don't screw around. Act now while you are still riled up.
posted by ewkpates at 4:25 AM on June 9, 2006

Sorry to hear about your experience, it;s the worst feeling in the world when something like this happens.

My advice is spend the money and get the security system (ADT, Brinks, whatever). You get 24 hour monitoring from the central location and the peace of mind. Security systems (if you advertise you have one) WILL deter opportunist thieves and kids out to cause mayhem. If it causes the bad guy to pass by your house/apartment/whatever and go to the guy next door, then it has done its job.

Do they work? Yes. We have had one false alarm when my kid set it off when he came home from school and couldn't remember the code word when the monitoring company called. The Sheriff's department came out to check it out, calmed him down and made sure all was OK. But at least I know that if happened for real the cops would have been there in pretty short time (plus the thing makes a hell of loud noise when it goes off).

Pay the money for it and get a reduction on your insurance premiums and feel safer whether you're at home or away. If you had got a system six months ago, maybe you wouldn't have had to post this message on MeFi asking for others opinions.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 4:33 AM on June 9, 2006

I also think that a security system is worth the money, but be sure to get one that has 24-hour monitoring and response. Check with your insurance company to see if they have guidelines on which systems and companies they endorse/give insurance savings for.

After the security system is in place, put those company stickers on all of your doors, if possible. They are a strong signal to burglars to move along and choose the next home. Dead bolt locks (such as those made by Medeco) are also a good idea. Thieves don't want to spend extra time or get caught, they just want to get in and out quickly with no fuss.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by Flakypastry at 5:28 AM on June 9, 2006

When the little **********s tried to get into my house the last time, I got a visit from these people CASAC. They're local initiative and they come round and investigate your property, checking doors and window locks, points of entry, etc. Then they fit extra locks, birmingham bars, and other security measures where they reckon it's needed. There might be something similar in your area?
posted by handee at 5:52 AM on June 9, 2006

personal and recent experience. I was broken into on a Sunday afternoon. The neighbors saw nothing untill me alarm went off. Now it is only a local alrm, but it is a loud external siren. So what happened...well the perps got away with NOTHING. They were in the house for as long as it took them to trigger the alarm. 20 years ago I installed a local alarm with front, back, and cellar door triggers. No Windows were alarmed, and that is how they got in. They wanted an easy exit, and went to open a door and triggered the alarm. So What? Well the alarm did its thing. Great except 1. Nobody who heard the alarm called the police. 2. I walked into a house unaware that it had been broken into. I did not know if the perps were still in the house...
My reaction was to spend the 28.00 per month (before insurance discount) just to have problems 1 and 2 resolved before I came home. I went with Brinks who installed a new wired system with the doors plus motion detectors for about $250.00 (I have pets, so the placement of motion detectors was tricky, but resolved simply by lowering the normal installation height, and pointing them up.
posted by Gungho at 6:15 AM on June 9, 2006

Syndicated radio host Clark Howard, who does a wonderfully informative consumer rights show, has discussed home security systems a number of times; the field is ripe for abusive business practices:

Clark has been hearing complaints about the burglar industry since he started in radio back in the ‘80s. There are legitimate businesses, of course. But the majority of these people are very scummy. They take advantage of people who are emotionally vulnerable by creating burglar alarm contracts that are very one-sided...

The first thing you must ask when deciding on a company is, “Do you have a contract?” If the answer is yes, hang up. You want a company that is month-to-month – or one that charges no more than three months at a time. The second question is, “What is your monthly fee?” If it’s more than $20, hang up. The true cost of monitoring a home is probably $2 or $3 a month, but many jack up the fee by a huge amount. There is simply no need to pay that much, so don’t. You want protection against smoke and fire with the alarm, so make sure that is included in the price.

He restates the case here.

On the motion-detecting lights front, when we were broken into during daylight hours a few months ago, the fingerprint tech told us that most robberies she sees happen between noon and 3pm.
posted by mediareport at 7:01 AM on June 9, 2006

Well A contract will cut way back on the installation costs. When I was getting mine installed the qoutes from a local respected dealer was $1300.00 for installation his spiel was that there were no contracts. Brinks installation was $250 as I mentioned above, and there was a three year contract. Nice touches were that they would install a system for free if I had a vacation house, or if I moved within the term of the contract. Oh, and no one was less than $27.00 per month for monitoring with or without contract. I could save about 10% if I pay a year in advance, and the insurance discount is about 15% off my homeowners.
posted by Gungho at 7:49 AM on June 9, 2006

Sorry to hear about your break-in. Here are a few of my random thoughts on the subject:

Our neighborhood has experienced a recent rash of daytime burglaries, while people are at work. One night after the first burglary, two opportunist college-age guys came by trying to sell us an ADT security system. They had it down to a science - "won't your wife feel more secure," your house is "one of the nicest on the street, it'll be a target," etc. Same shit they prolly said to everyone on the street. The impression I got is that they're just trying to appeal to jittery folks who want one of those signs for the yard and stickers for the windows. Seemed a little scammy to me.

*OK, end rant*

We didn't, and won't, get a security system, but we have made a couple adjustments based on recommendations from our city's Web site.

The main one is that our dogs, who usually flop around in the air-con while we're at work, are now left outside. It's assumed that most casual burglars will skip a house with dogs who bark, because even if they don't bite (ours will), they'll likely get neighbors' attention.

We have sliding storm windows, and now we use boards to reinforce the locks.

Another thing we learned recently is that higher fences, like 8 feet, are actually bad, because they'll prevent a neighbor from noticing that someone is prying at your back door. Our fences are about 5.5 feet high, so we can peer right into our neighbors' yards, and vice versa. I imagine someone in the backyard would feel rather exposed.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:55 AM on June 9, 2006

Regarding the need for some response:

A friend of mine (who now posts here on mefi) got broken into a couple of months ago, during just the few hours he was away from home on a Thursday night. The thief was so ballsy that when a neighbor saw him and called the cops and yelled at him, he dashed off... then around the house to the unlocked basement and stole both the bikes.

My friend thinks he should get a security system, but decides nah, what are the odds of getting hit twice.... ? Which he thought right up until two weeks later when they broke in again, and took the DVD player, etc.

In other words, if you were hit, there's a better chance you'll get hit again simply because you were an easy score last time. The solution may not be a full blown fancypants security system, but doing nothing and banking on it being a fluke event probably isn't the best move.
posted by hincandenza at 7:56 AM on June 9, 2006

My mother in law was burglarized of her laptop about 5 months ago. She never locked her doors. To her credit she still doesn't lock her doors. It's just stuff she tells me, it's replaceable. She'd rather live free with the chance of losing some stuff than to live in a prison. She says we need to stop placing so much importance on stuff in this society and start placing higher value on the things that don't cost a thing. I'm not sure I share her attitude, but I admire it and would like to evolve in that direction, we all should.
posted by any major dude at 8:56 AM on June 9, 2006

Two break-in tales before I get to the moral of the story:

1) Christmas two years ago we were out of town and had an attempted break-in. We have a prison-type metal bar door on the back door. Someone had forced open the regular wood door behind the bars and was looking into the kitchen with a mirror. If they had long arms, they could have taken some booze. If they had a sharp eye and something to give them a little extra reach, they could have grabbed a spare set of keys and let themselves in to take everything. However, our neighbor saw this happening. He not only scared them off, but chased them down the block, confronted them, searched their bag, and informed them that they were not welcome back on our street before letting them go.

2) Two months ago the neighbor on the other side had her place broken into. They used a ridiculously large cat door to open her back door during the day. The enterprising thief built a bridge out of her furniture to climb from her second story window into our second story window. They took our stuff, made lunch in our place, and then really cleaned her out. She had an alarm, it went off. The police said they responded, but we have our doubts (it took six hours for an officer to respond to our call when we got home to see the amazing burglary bridge).

So the moral for us has been to:

1) Fix the obvious problems like the keys by the back door and windows open when nobody is home.

2) Realizing that your place is only as safe as your neighborhood. We were saved once by a good neighbor and we paid the price for a stupid neighbor. We've worked on making better connections with the people who live around us to try to encourage everyone to look out for one another.
posted by peeedro at 9:40 AM on June 9, 2006

Don't get a dog unless you are actually a dog lover. Here's the problem with guard dogs: If you get a mean scary one, you're gonna be super-unhappy and it might actually be dangerous. If you get a pussycat in canine clothing, and the barking doesn't deter the theif, once the guy is inside the dog isn't going to do much for protectsion.

As for alarm systems, as a house-sitter I freakin hate those things. On three different occasions (in different houses) I've had them go off and the cops called and the homeownders freak the f*ck out, and it's a pain in the ass (FWIW, only one of those times was actually my fault, one was a malfunction and the other was set off by a storm slapping tree branches at the windows at 6am).
posted by radioamy at 9:41 AM on June 9, 2006

If you do go with a security/alarm system that triggers a call to a local responder make sure they have your correct address in their db! Perhaps trip the alarm yourself to test this.

I know this sounds ridiculous but this happened to my mom once (the police were sent to a similar sounding street several miles away). When I moved into my house we inherited a security system that, while we never subscribed to, eventually went off (low back up battery) and we had to call Brinks to figure out how to shut it off. During the call (which they tried to sell me on the system several times before telling me how to shut it off) they revealed that they had the incorrect street address and so would have sent out a responder to a house several streets away. Amazingly they were still surprised when I refused to subscribe. Instead we pulled off the face plate and wired a blinking red LED as a deterent.
posted by rosebengal at 12:36 PM on June 9, 2006

This may entirely urban legend, but what I've heard is that with most of the alarm systems that notify some responder service, the responders almost invariably don't respond, because alarms get tripped accidentally so often. For what it's worth, you might as well just get a sticker saying that you have an alarm system.
posted by number9dream at 6:25 PM on June 9, 2006

I just want to add to the list of folks saying that a security system isn't worth it.

Paid about $1000 for a good one, $25/month for monitoring. Got it because I'd been robbed. Following year got robbed again. Guy apparently walked straight to the alarm siren and pried it off the wall with a crowbar. Then did the same to the keypad. He had half an hour to locate the goods and get away before any cops arrived to check it out.

Here's what I did: I asked the investigating cop how these guys get into houses in my neighborhood. Then I fixed that particular weakness. (for me it was double-hung sash windows -- easy to pop the locks out.)

My house hasn't been broken into since. To be on the safe side, I have hidden everything that I can't replace (not much, just some heirlooms.) Someone would have to spend hours ransacking my place to find the stash, and no jerk looking for drug money will ever do that.

Having someone invade your home is awful. I know you feel like doing anything, no matter the cost. But I don't believe an alarm system and stickers on the window will do you a bit of good.
posted by shifafa at 11:42 PM on June 9, 2006

The first thing I'd consider is, are you dealing with neighborhood delinquents or some level of pro?

There was a book out about 10 years ago by a guy that was once a pro, got caught and decided that he didn't want to do jail time twice. His advice was basically that a pro is looking for a house to hit. You don't have to be Ft. Knox, you just don't want to be the least desireable target on your street. The delinquents are usually more spontanious. They see something that looks weak and go for it. Try not to look weak.

Personally I fear the delinquents more than the pros. The pros will take my ordinary consumer goods and I'll make an insurance claim. The Delinquents might take (or destroy) something irreplaceable and do thousands of dollars of damage to the house during their visit.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:47 AM on June 14, 2006

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