Don’t Mess with Texas… especially if you’re a porch pirate.
Texas Governor Gregg Abbott recently signed HB 37, a bill that makes mail theft a state felony and specifically includes packages left on doorsteps.
Here’s what porch pirates are facing under the new law:
A Class A misdemeanor if the mail is appropriated from fewer than 10 addresses.
A state jail felony if the mail is appropriated from at least 10 but fewer than 30 addresses.
A felony of the third degree if the mail is appropriated from 30 or more addresses.
Penalties under the new law range from a year in jail and/or a $4000 maximum fine to a 10-year prison sentence and an optional $10,000 fine for the most serious offenders.
Now if it turns out that the thieves are stealing mail for purposes of identity theft/fraud, then the penalties increase significantly and instantly become felonies. There is also a provision in the law that adds additional penalties if the victims are disabled or elderly.
The law is geared more toward professional thieves who steal mail for identity theft purposes rather than petty criminals, but the penalties are putting all porch pirates on alert and should have them thinking twice before perpetrating their crimes.
Amazon has come out in favor of the bill and aims to help other states establish similar laws.
If you’ve ever seen a heist movie like Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job, you know that thieves leave nothing to chance. Everything is painstakingly planned out, and that includes ‘casing’ the target location.
Home burglaries are no different. Would-be burglars typically identify potential targets days or even weeks in advance. They return again and again to gather additional information about the property, the homeowners, and any home security measures that may be in place.
In order to beat them at their own game, you need to know the tricks and techniques they use to case the outside and inside of your home. You need to do everything possible to turn your property from a soft to a hard target.
The Home Security Basics
A modern home security system should be like an onion, with many overlapping layers protecting the three major zones: the perimeter of your property, the perimeter of your house, and inside your home.
Gates, fences, motion sensors, lights, cameras, security system signs or stickers, closed curtains or blinds, sturdy locks, beware of dog signs, and more are all fantastic deterrents on the outside of your home. Any combination of them will deter all but the most ambitious of burglars from moving on to the next property.
Many of us are oblivious to what’s going on around us.
But if you pay attention, you should be able to identify the telltale signs that your home is being cased before the burglary takes place.
Things to watch for include:
The same unfamiliar vehicle hanging around over the course of several days, either frequently driving by your place, or parked nearby
Unfamiliar individuals walking back and forth on your street or back alley
Anyone taking photos of your home or property
Loose light bulbs on exterior lights (burglars will often unscrew them a day or two prior to a break-in attempt)
Strangers at your door (burglars will frequently walk up and knock on the front door to see if someone is home, giving an excuse – asking for directions, have you seen my dog?, oops wrong house – whenever someone answers it)
Mild vandalism like a rock through a side window (thieves sometimes check to see what happens if a window or door is broken)
Someone lets your dog out from your yard
Telephone calls that hang up as soon as you answer (it could be burglars probing to see who’s home)
Clear tape over the keyhole to your front door (the key will easily break through and inform the burglar that someone is home)
Recently, there have been homes in both North America and Europe with strange markings discovered somewhere outside. According to the authorities, these are often left by criminals as either reminders to themselves or messages to their accomplices.
The promise of the home alarm system has always been deterring, or at least catching, criminals. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out quite like anyone expected, and this is due largely to false alarms, which far outweigh real ones.
In fact, the Los Angeles Police Department reports that approximately 97% of alarm calls they receive are false, which means responding to them wastes precious resources that could be better tasked responding to other calls where verified crimes are occurring.
Over the years, the LAPD has had to temper their response to alarm calls, instituting policies limiting how officers may respond to these calls. What changes have been implemented and how do these policies affect you? What can you do to keep your home safe when authorities won’t respond to alarms?
With the high number of false alarms and no homeowners or security personnel on-scene to relate to the police whether or not an actual crime was taking place, police were left with no option but to waste time and resources responding to every call, just in case a crime was in progress. The LAPD eventually determined that they could not continue.
The LAPD convened the Burglar Alarm Task Force in 2003, with input from citizens, community police advisory boards, alarm industry representatives, and more, intent on finding a solution to the growing problem of false alarms and their impact on police resources. In 2004, the Burglar Alarm Dispatch policy allowed for two false alarms per location each year, after which police response would be limited to only verified alarms (although patrolling officers could respond voluntarily).
The Alarm Ordinance was later revised to institute penalties for multiple false alarms. As of 2012, LAPD officers were still plagued by a 90% false alarm rate, and reported that 15% of police resources were wasted responding to them. It was because of this that the LAPD made the bold move to stop responding completely to any alarm calls that could not be verified by a homeowner, alarm company personnel, or other sources with eyes on the scene.
The decision was controversial, especially since exemptions were made for the homes of local politicians (as well as panic button calls). Many not only felt that it was wrong to value specific lives and homes over others, but wondered if the policy would virtually create an invitation for thieves.
THE TROUBLE FOR HOMEOWNERS
Naturally, the adoption of a non-response policy without verification by the LAPD has troubling ramifications for residents. As it stands, only about17% of houses in the U.S. feature a home security system, and this trend of non-response may make homeowners wonder if installing one is even worth it, since authorities will not respond without verification and roughly 72% of attempted break-ins occur when no one is home.
The flip side, of course, is that homes without security systems are 300% more likely to be burglarized, probably due to simple fact that thieves check for alarms and may be deterred by them. In fact, a study conducted by UNC Charlotte found that 83% of burglars look for an alarm, and of that number, 60% won’t break in if there is an alarm present.
Unfortunately, that means 40% would break in even if there’s an alarm present, and without verification, the police will not respond to the alarm, giving thieves plenty of time to rob the home and escape without a trace, or even harm inhabitants that happen to be home.
ALTERNATIVES FOR MODERN HOMEOWNERS
With more and more cities electing to limit police response to only verified alarm calls, homeowners are left trying to figure out how to make their home security systems work with current police policies. This is where forward-thinking security companies like Deep Sentinel enter the picture, with home surveillance solutions that make a real difference that police do respond to.
Many alarm companies operate on non-visual confirmation of alarms. When an alarm is triggered, they wait for a short period to see if it will be disarmed by the homeowner. Then they place a call to allow the homeowner to respond with a pre-set code to confirm that it is a false alarm. If there’s no answer, they may place a second call, and if they’re still unable to verify a false alarm, they’ll contact the authorities, who may or may not respond, depending on their policy.
This not only wastes precious minutes on a lengthy verification process, but the police may not even respond, or they may place little priority on the call, leaving burglars to ransack the home. Approved verification is the key to seeing police response in the event of a real alarm situation, and while most alarm companies are stuck in the past, Deep Sentinel has taken a new approach.
It begins with visible security features that act as a deterrent to crime, including security cameras that let would-be burglars know they’re being watched. Strobing lights, a loud siren, and 2-way speakers further deter crimes in progress, or even before they start.
If thieves can’t be deterred by the system, Deep Sentinel agents (who have eyes and ears on the scene) provide a speedy verified response, and keep police up-to-date on the situation by the second. This proactive system not only helps police departments to use their resources wisely, but gives homeowners the protection and peace of mind they expect when installing a home security system.
With an average cost of $10-50 per month for well known providers like ADT, Vivint, Brinks, and Lifeshield, it’s clear that a home security system of some sort is a worthwhile and affordable investment. After all, you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
However, if you’re in the minority and already have a system in place, you may feel like you’ve done everything possible.
But here’s the thing: you’re probably wrong.
The Problem With Most Providers
As we can see from the statistics above, a home security system is always better than no system at all. Even just putting up a lawn sign and a few stickers can increase the odds your home will be passed in favor of one without anything, although it’s no guarantee.
That said, if you’re paying $10-50/month for security and thinking you’re fully protected from break-ins, you’re getting robbed by your provider. That’s a bold claim, yes. But true nonetheless.
Here’s why: most systems like ADT and Ring use some combination of video recorders, signage, and/or alarms. Some may even promise 24/7 ‘monitoring’ in that monthly fee. This is great for a) possibly, maybe deterring a criminal, and b) providing video evidence of the crime after the fact.
The inherent flaw in traditional systems is that they don’t do anything until the break-in has already happened.
The alarm goes off only after a door or window sensor has been triggered and the burglar is inside your house. The cameras record as a stranger rifles through your personal belongings, but does nothing to stop him or her. The crime has not been prevented or deterred, only detected and recorded.
Better than nothing, but not what you thought you were getting when you signed a contract and had the system installed, right?
An Alarm Does Not Mean Help is on the Way
Here’s a typical scenario: a burglar enters via your front door and triggers an alarm.
Are the police on their way to your property? Absolutely not.
First, there’s a delay of 30 seconds or more. This is the grace period while the system allows someone to enter the security code and cancel the alarm.
Next, there’s your security provider response time, or how long it takes to notify the monitoring center that an alarm has gone off. This is typically at least 15 seconds. That brings us up to 45 seconds at the low end – and well over two minutes at the high end – since the criminal entered your home.
Once notified, most providers have rules in place that require them to attempt and contact the homeowner not once, but two or three times to confirm that the alarm is in fact a break-in. This can take several minutes.
Then, and only then, will they contact the appropriate authorities. On average, it takes eight full minutes to reach this stage.
The average police response time in the United States varies depending on the location and crime-in-progress, but you’re probably looking at five minutes or more, with the majority being ten minutes plus.
Home burglaries, unfortunately, are considered low priority. Almost half – 46.9% – have a response time of 11-60 minutes.
Remember how long the average home burglary lasts? 8-10 minutes.
The takeaway? Traditional home security providers simply can’t stop a break-in. At best, they can record it and pass it on to the police, who may not show up for an hour, and clear less than 14% of break-ins because of lack of evidence.
The vaunted 24/7 monitoring that you erroneously believed meant live eyes on your home is nothing more than human intervention after and only after the crime has occurred. The criminal is already in your house.
Still feel like you’ve done everything possible for your home and family? Or are you starting to think you’re paying for a false sense of security?
You’re paying up to $50/month and hoping a sticker is enough to intimidate would-be burglars. You’re paying up to $600/year for something that is only useful to you – and even then only superficially – if you actually get robbed. That’s not money well spent.
A Better Way
So, if anything, a truly valuable home security system needs to prevent and deter crime more than just record it, and somehow shorten the overall response time of both the provider and police.
Those were the guiding principles in designing Deep Sentinel. Our system is different from everything else on the market.
How do we do it? Our proprietary A.I. system monitors the perimeter of your home, and identifies suspicious activity. Next, LiveSentinel agents are notified in real-time. Our highly trained agents can then engage with the suspect via real-time audio and video. This is typically enough to stop them in their tracks before they’ve gained access to your home.
If the situation warrants it, we notify police and provide real-time details on the suspect and their location.
From start to finish? 30 seconds or less. And with zero false alarms and live eyes and ears on a verified crime, police treat our calls as high priority.
That’s the Deep Sentinel difference.
So, are you being robbed by your home security provider? The short answer is ‘yes’ if you’re relying on antiquated systems and providers. They’re promising something they just can’t deliver.
Or you can get what you thought you were paying for with Deep Sentinel: prevention, deterrence, and proactive protection.
If so, your home is a little less attractive to burglars.
According to the US Department of Justice, “On average, burglarized houses are less likely to have dogs than non-burglarized houses, suggesting that dog ownership is a substantial deterrent.”
Studies conducted over the years have shown a clear pattern that dogs, regardless of size, will affect a burglar’s decision to target a home or not. Burglars are looking for the least number of obstacles in their way to conduct their crimes. While big dogs pose a natural, more physical threat, even a small barking dog can attract unwanted attention from neighbors.
This is not to say that dogs are a guarantee that your home will not be targeted. There have obviously been burglaries that have taken place in the presence of dogs (as well as humans), but it poses an unknown risk to burglars that many aren’t willing to take. A recent survey of incarcerated burglars in Oregon found family dogs were a “deal breaker” for some. And watch what happened in this recent burglary in Indianapolis, when a burglar came face to face with a 90-pound family dog. Spoiler: it didn’t go well for the burglar!
Even if your dog’s bark is worse than its bite, when it comes to protecting your home and your family in the ongoing fight against crime, every little advantage helps. And here’s a sneaky tip: Even simply putting up a sign that says “Beware of Dog” is likely to gain a burglar’s attention even if you don’t actually own a dog.
Now it should go without saying that dog ownership is a huge responsibility. Dogs are more than just home protectors. These furry friends are family companions who need attention and love. They can also be very expensive when you add up food, vet bills, etc. So do take all that into consideration if you are thinking of adding a dog to your family.
That being said, having a dog at home at all times can bring considerable peace of mind to homeowners concerned about burglaries, especially when coupled with a Deep Sentinel Smart Home Surveillance System. This one-two punch literally has teeth and could be just what your home needs to keep the bad guys away for good.
To learn more about how Deep Sentinel can help secure your home against burglars, click here.
Home security may not be foremost on your mind when you’re planning your summer vacation. But once you’ve purchased your travel tickets and booked your accommodations, take some steps to keep your home safe and secure while you’re away. Nothing’s more of a buzzkill than returning from a great trip to find your home ransacked and your stuff stolen.
Reading the tips below is a good start:
1. Halt mail and newspaper delivery service.You can sign up online to have the USPS hold your mail at your local post office for free for 30 days. You can also ask a neighbor to pick up your mail and papers – and offer to do the same for them when they travel. Piled up mail and newspapers are a sure sign you’re away.
2. Block entry through your sliding glass patio door.Secure your glass patio door by using a broom handle or metal pipe as a wedge in the middle bottom track of the door slide. Make sure it’s a tight fit.
3. Don’t publicly promote your absence.Why announce to the world that you’re away? Save posting trip pics until you get home. Don’t change your voicemail message. Make your out-of-office email reply vague. Simply say, “I am temporarily out of the office. If you need immediate assistance, please contact (name) at (email address). Otherwise I will reply when I return. Thank you.”
4. Don’t tape notes for delivery or service people to your doors.This serves as advertising to burglars that you’re away. Instead contact them directly via their phones or company website.
5. Install a surveillance system and not just cameras.Security systems that depend on you to monitor your phone may not help when your phone’s on airplane mode. Or you’re snorkeling, hiking or listening to a tour guide. Deep Sentinel’s 24/7 trained surveillance agents call the police for you when your property’s perimeter is breached.
6. Trim trees and shrubs.Spring and summer leafing out of your trees and shrubs may be lovely but not when it shields burglars robbing your home. Be sure to trim all that lush foliage away from your windows and doors.
7. Leave on lights, radio and TVusing a programmable timer.Confuse would-be thieves by leaving on a few bright lights as well as TV and/or radio with the volume up to a level that can be heard from your front door. Make sure to use a programmable timer. Here at Deep Sentinel, we like the Honeywell Home light switch timer that includes a random setting to really fool thieves.
8. Stash valuables.Thieves often scoop up jewelry, watches, and cash left lying in plain sight on top of dressers and night tables. Put all your stuff away before you go. Thieves aim to be in and out of a house in less than 10 minutes.
9. Shut and lock all windows and doors.Do this even if you’re going on a day trip. Many thieves simply hop in through open windows and doors. (If you tend to be forgetful, consider getting a smart lock you can monitor and program though a phone app.) Also close all curtains, shades and blinds.
10. Make sure your outdoor lighting includes motion sensorsand/or a timer.Many thieves prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness. Bright outdoor lighting that flashes on when motion is detected can be a deterrent. Or you can use a programmable timer (see #8 above.)