Porch Pirates Face Texas-Sized Penalties for Mail Theft

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.

HB 37 will go into effect September 1, 2019.

The Burglar Always Rings Twice

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.

Here’s how.

 

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.

In fact, the data suggests that 90% of criminals will pass on a house with a visible home security system in place, and a home without one is on average 3x more likely to be robbed.   

It’s all about making your house as unappealing as possible.

The lowest hanging fruit for a thief? Unlocked doors and windows. A full 33% of home burglaries are classified as “unlawful entry”, meaning they gained access without having to break a lock, door, or window.

 

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79% of break-ins happen via either the front door, first floor window, or back door. Will a burglar smash his or her way in? Sometimes. But making sure everything is locked up tight is the simplest and most powerful deterrent.  

Even better? Install a home security system. And let everyone know with stickers, placards, and obvious motion sensors, cameras, and lights.

 

What Are Burglars Looking For?

An easy target (i.e. no security system).

Evidence that no one is home, such as:

  • multiple newspapers piling up
  • several days worth of mail
  • too-long grass
  • exterior lights on during the day
  • interior lights on an obvious schedule (turn on at the same time each night)
  • empty driveway
  • quiet house

Windows they can easily look through to see who and what is inside. Flimsy doors and/or locks. Window air-conditioner units (it’s relatively easy to remove them and gain access).

A door or window they can break-in under cover of darkness or shielded from the street by trees or hedges. Burglars don’t like a spotlight.

Access to the sides and/or back of your house.

These are just a few of the things a burglar might look for over the course of a few visits.

Take them away and transform your home from an easy mark to a hard pass:

  • Install a home security system with motion detectors, cameras, lights, and sirens (noticing a pattern with this?)
  • Have a neighbor collect your newspapers and/or mail, or better yet, place a temporary hold on them
  • Lock your windows and doors, and close the curtains/blinds of all ground floor windows
  • Use smart automatic light systems to vary the times when they turn on and off
  • Leave a radio or television on in the house to give the appearance that someone is home
  • For extended holidays, ask a neighbor or hire a service to cut your grass or shovel your snow
  • Trim trees and hedges and/or install lights at the most obvious points of entry
  • Keep side and backyard gates closed and locked if you have them
  • Ensure your door is solid and fits tightly in the door jamb (too much space between and a crowbar can easily be slipped in)
  • Secure window a/c units from the inside, or limit them to upstairs windows

Finally, you should also participate in or launch a neighborhood watch program. A recent study involving data from Canada, the UK, and the United States found that these programs reduce crime by an average of 16%.

 

More eyes on your house means a much lower probability you’ll be selected.

 

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How to Tell if You’re Being Targeted

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.

 

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If you find odd chalk markings on your property, it’s a good idea to inform the proper authorities. They may have information on what – if anything – it means.

There are 2.5 million+ burglaries each year in the United States, with an average dollar loss of $2251 per burglary. Unless you want to be part of that statistic, you do need to take steps to protect your family and your property.

Would-be burglars are casing your home. They’re returning several times looking for easiest access points, proof that you’re not home, evidence of valuables, and whatever other data they can gather.

Don’t make it easy for them. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Follow the advice here. Install a proactive home security system like Deep Sentinel.

And prevent crime before it happens.

Los Angeles Limiting Police Response to Home Alarms

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?

 

NEW POLICIES

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.

deep_sentinelIt 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.

 

Top 10 Home Security Tips for Summer Travel

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 TV using 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 sensors and/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.)

CrimeWatch | Kansas City, MO

Kansas City may not come to mind when you think tech hub. But as skyrocketing housing costs make traditional tech centers like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Seattle and New York out of reach for even STEM folks, other urban areas are on the rise.  Thanks to the advent of cloud computing, work forces can be more decentralized than ever before. And Kansas City, with its central location and affordable housing stock is reaping the benefits.

And by the way, as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz famously says, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” the Kansas City we’re talking about isn’t in Kansas. The city is in two states. But the urban engine of economic development is firing up in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kansas City MO: Number 1 Affordable City for Tech Jobs

Kansas City MO ranked in first place in a survey that rated best cities for tech jobs where you can also afford to live. The author crunched data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for job trends, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for rent costs and the prices of goods and services from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Kansas City MO earned first place because of its higher than average number of tech jobs, low cost of goods and services and affordable rents. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment was listed as $681, about one-third the cost of a similar unit in San Francisco.  The median cost of a home is $109,000. You could add another zero for the San Francisco Bay Area equivalent.

Well-known companies headquartered in Kansas City include Sprint, H & R Block, Hallmark and Garmin International. And according to the region’s economic development website, Kansas City recently attracted 500 new companies and created 60,000 new jobs.

Property Crime in Kansas City Metro Area in Line with U.S. Average

Kansas City, like many older U.S. cities, went through a steep decline in the 1960s and 1970s. That was when traditional factories and freight train transport began to fade and populations chose to move to newer suburbs.

Current trends for tech jobs and the revitalization of urban centers including micro-breweries, art galleries and coffee houses are renewing the city. Crime for the Kansas City Metro Area are only slightly above average for property crime but higher for all of Kansas City.

For the metro area Kansas City, Missouri, property crime, on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 100, is 44 states Best Places, a website that tracks data from U.S. cities. Property crimes include the offenses such as burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. The object of these types of offenses is primarily the taking of money or property. There is no force or threat of force against the victims. The US average for property crime in cities and towns is 38.1.  The property crime rate for all of Kansas City, Mo is 66.

Unfortunately, violent crime including murder, aggravated assault and robbery stands at 91 on a scale of 1 to 100 for Kansas City, MO but is only 42 for the Kansas City Metro Area. The U.S. average is 31.1. However, with future job growth predicted at 42.81% and salaries higher than the U.S. averages, it can be hoped that property crime rates will improve.

Burglars Hit Rams Head Coach McVay’s LA Home

Thieves Take $20,000 In Jewelry, Cash and Other Pricey Items

Three burglars brazenly broke into the Los Angeles-area home of Sean McVay, head coach for the Los Angeles Rams football team.  The thieves stole over $20,000 worth of cash, jewelry and purses from the home, according to TMZ Sports and other media reports.

In addition, the crooks damaged the home itself, including the back door where they forced open to gain entry. The extent of the damage has not yet been assessed.

McVay’s Ring Security System Fails to Deter Break-In

Once again, the Ring Security System, unlike Deep Sentinel which employs live 24/7 live video security surveillance agents who deter thieves before they get inside, failed to prevent or halt a home break-in. McVay’s Ring system reportedly sent an alarm to the police. But a recent Deep Sentinel survey finds that police departments in the U.S. often may ignore or may be slow to respond to burglar alarms because of the overwhelming number of false alarms straining their resources.

Deep Sentinel’s surveillance agents, many of whom are retired police officers, talk directly to police dispatchers. They quickly convey to police personnel that they see a crime in progress; not a dog or squirrel accidently setting off an alarm.

McVay’s Ring system also passively captured brief video footage of the burglars once they entered the home. Deep Sentinel believes it’s important to prevent thieves from entering a home. Our artificial intelligence-enhanced cameras focus on all the perimeters of a home’s property and alert our agents as soon as that perimeter is breached.

Police involved in the McVay case say they will try to identify the thieves based on the Ring surveillance footage, according to media reports. But we’ve seen the footage and it is brief, blurry, black and white. It offers only a glimpse at the thieves whose faces are covered and one of whom puts his hand over the camera lens to hide their nefarious deeds. Deep Sentinel’s cutting-edge cameras get sharp full-color imagery. And if activity sets off our cameras, that means one of our live agents has been alerted and is viewing it live; ready to intervene.

McVay Bought Luxury Home Following Rams Hire

McVay bought the six-bedroom six-bathroom home in the hills of Encino, California for $2.71 million in March 2017.  He purchased the home after accepting the position as head coach for the LA Rams; becoming at age 30 the youngest head coach in NFL history. “The 4,660 square-foot home, originally built in 1966, features an open concept floor plan,” real estate website Trulia reported at the time.

McVay moved to the upscale home with his live-in girlfriend Veronika Khomyn after selling his Reston, Virginia townhouse. McVay spent six years coaching for the Washington D.C. Redskins team. McVay told ESPN during an interview at the time he was surprised to learn from his girlfriend that details about their new home appeared all over social media. “It’s everywhere, where we live and all that stuff,” he said.

Neither McVay nor Woods were home during the Thursday night break-in.

Several LA athletes, including Rams wide receiver Robert Woods and many celebrities returned home to face burglarized homes lately. The LAPD busted not one but two separate burglary operations breaking into celebrity homes. One group of alleged gang members tracked celebrities’ social media and online performance/game calendars to determine when they’d be away. Another burglar, likely working with accomplices, attended real estate open houses for celebrities’ homes, then returned later to rob them.

Although police sidelined these criminals, it seems there are new ones in town. We recommend calling Deep Sentinel today.