​We ask a burglar - does smart home security really scare off the criminals?

No robot pitbulls were harmed in the making of this feature

Ask a burglar: does smart security work?

Burglary. It happens a lot - every 13 seconds in the US and only every 40 seconds or so in the UK quite probably because there aren’t as many houses or people to break into them. Either way, it’s pretty plain to see why someone dreamt up the smart home security camera. So, we bought them. They’re very good at capturing footage of pets and our housemates filling their faces with greasy munch after coming home late from a night on the tiles. Are they much good at catching the crims, though?

Obviously, all the blogs of the smart home camera manufactures are filled with these cameras doing just that - bagging the perp complete with swag bag and foolish expression. Burglaries, of coure, as the statistics show, still happen. So, what do the burglars themselves think about smart home protection? Do they make a difference? Do they act as deterrents?

The Ambient spoke to Peter Woolf - a habitual burglar since the age of 14 until the day many years later in 2002 when he was caught in the act and chose to reform. If you want to read about that particular story - and we suggest you do - then pick up a copy of Peter’s book - The Damage Done. If you want to find out which smart home devices really scare the burglars - and we suggest you do that too - then read on.

We ask a burglar - does smart home security really scare off the criminals?

The psychology of burglary

“You’ve got two different kinds of burglar,” begins Woolf, now 60, down the line from his home in Sweden, in his gravelly accent from a Shoreditch long before it was cool. “You’ve got the professional burglar who plans it all out and will choose the most profitable easy target. You can’t stop professional burglars but they don’t target you and me. They don’t go down the Holloway Road breaking into houses. They get out Who’s Who or whatever and do their homework.

“Recently, I’ve been reading about one in the UK who they think is ex-military. He’s going in with a gun, he’s taping people up and he knows exactly what he’s after. They’ve all got CCTV and they’ve all got alarm systems but it doesn’t stop the professional because, no matter what, if you’ve got something and that burglar wants it, then he or she is going to have it. He’s masked up, he’s taking all precautions, he’s not known to the system and they haven’t got any DNA on him because he’s never been arrested before. The chances of him getting caught, unless he makes a big mistake, are minimal.”

"You’ve got to display the fact that you’ve got a smart security system if you want to put people off.”


Professional burglars, fortunately, are very much in the minority. The vast majority of burglars, as you might expect, are opportunists and, according to Woolf, drug addicts and alcoholics and they don’t give a damn. They don’t care if they go to prison or not. That’s all well and good when it comes to catching them but if these are desperate people, is there much we can do to prevent them breaking in in the first place? Sigh of relief time - the answer is yes.

“It’s not about scaring them off. It’s about putting them off. That’s a myth. They don’t get scared. They just move onto the next one,” says Woolf. For home security, then, you’d better keep up with the Joneses.


If you can't scare them off, put them off

“Good security puts them off the most. You go up to a door and put your foot on the bottom and you can feel it. Or if you walk into a garden and the light goes on, and the first thing you see is, ‘Smile, you are now on CCTV’ then, yes, that stops you in your tracks, and the smart home security cameras are brilliant. They’re effective.

"The alarm goes off straight away and you can supply all the evidence that the police need rather than waiting for someone to hear a traditional alarm and then the burglar’s gone by the time the police have had time to respond. But you’ve got to display the fact that you’ve got it if you want to put people off.”

Not a good idea to throw away those window stickers that come in the box, then, particularly as the noise of an alarm itself is not going to be that surprising to the intruder, whom, as Woolf points out, is probably expecting it and, if you’re living in an inner-city area, that kind of noise level isn’t that unusual either.

“They’re only in there under a minute anyway. Before they go in, they look through the window and pick out exactly what they’re going to take. They grab those, then maybe run upstairs, have a quick look for jewellery and then run out.”


We ask a burglar - does smart home security really scare off the criminals?

Advertise your smart home creds

It doesn’t exactly give the smart home owner much time to call the police. On the plus side, your evidence should be safe. Woolf’s picture of the burglar describes a person only able to take what they can carry in a quick smash and grab. There’s not much to be gained from selling on a stolen smart home camera. So, if your model only stores video locally on an SD card, then it seems that’s not such a big oversight.

So, CCTV - smart or otherwise - a good alarm system, security lights and warning stickers are all good ways to make the opportunist think twice. While we had him, though, we got Woolf to give us a few more traditional approaches to protecting your home.

“Get a couple of pitbulls. Dogs are great things. The sound of the dog is off-putting and, if they can see it, and it’s a rottweiler or something, even better.

“Make sure you’ve got a good door. People mostly just kick doors in for access but don’t just have a nice door fitted. Make sure the frame’s been done. You can go out and buy a Yale lock, a mortise lock, a Chubb lock but if you’ve not improved your hinges too, then they’ll just kick the side where the hinge are because that’s the weak point.”

Lastly, don’t give burglars cover from wouldbe witnesses on the street while they break in. Cut the hedges in front of your house low. Don’t bother with dummy boxes, buy the real thing and, oh, the 8-bit sound of a dog from a speaker is not going to do the trick.

“If you want to know how to protect your home, just do this,” ends Woolf. “Go home, leave your house keys in your car, look at your house and imagine you’re now locked out. How are you going to get in? Now you’re thinking like a burglar.”


TAGGED   smart home

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