Just over two weeks ago, my cell phone buzzed while I was in the middle of an afternoon work meeting. Usually I would ignore the phone in that circumstance, but I didn’t this time. It was from Kathy, and she doesn’t call all that often.
When I answered, she told me she was hiding in one room of the house after someone tried breaking in. She didn’t know if he was in the house. The Redmond police were on the way.
It was a Monday, and Kathy was working from home that day. The door bell ran. She ignored it, figuring it was UPS dropping off a package. After a long pause, the doorbell rang a few more times, and then a bunch of times.
Kathy walked from her study to near the front door and started to yell, “who is it,” just as the decorative windowpane closest to the door knob was punched in. Kathy yelled something and ran to her hiding spot, grabbing her cell phone on the way. She called 9-11 and then me.
The would-be burglar apparently took off. She could see through the hole that it was a male wearing a dark blue jacket with light lettering, and the police found nobody matching that description hanging around.
The physical damage was minimal. But for Kathy, this episode was emotionally difficult. For the five minutes it took the police to arrive, her home had gone from being a place of safety and comfort to being a terrifying prison.
When the police left, she talked to our friends a couple of houses down. These people have young children, which means they are well connected in the neighborhood and beyond. They sent out word warning other neighbors. Later that night a neighbor down the street send us images of all the cars and pedestrians that had passed his security camera watching over is driveway. After that, we were forwarded an email from a neighbor who was likely a target of the same individuals.
He was on the second floor of his house when a car pulled into the driveway. A clean-cut white male in his late 20s or early 30s, wearing a dark blue shirt with light blue lettering, got out of the passenger side of a silver late model Kia Optima and rang the doorbell. The home owner answered from the second floor window, and the ensuing exchanged established that the visitors had the wrong house number. The police obtained a written statement about this incident, but they have not “solved” the case, as far as I know.
On this particular day, I had promised my students a 6:00-7:30 pm review session for their final exam, so I really had no time to catch a bus home and then make it back to work. When I went to The Ave for a quick dinner, I stopped at Radio Shack and picked up a few blinking LED assemblies. After fixing the hole that evening, I set up the blinking LED assemblies near all ground floor entrances to make them look like part of an alarm system. Out of my electronics junk box, I dug up a small keypad that used to be attached to a radio. I affixed it on a wall near the front door.
Kathy appreciated my faux alarm system, but wanted the real thing. “I don’t care what it costs. I want a real alarm system and some video cameras!”
Okay…I can deal with that. As it happens, good alarm systems are quite affordable and straightforward to install. In the bad old days, an alarm system with sensors on every door and window would be a pain the the ass, if only because one would run wires from each sensor back to the control unit. Modern alarm systems are entirely wireless, and can include door and window sensors, motion sensors, glass breakage sensors, water sensors, smoke detectors, heat detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, natural gas detectors and even remote panic buttons. The control unit can be programmed to call an alarm monitoring service if you chose; or, you can program it to call your own series of numbers. You can add a dedicated cell phone “line” to most alarms. Some can even utilize the internet to email messages.
So four days later, I had an alarm system in hand. An evening later I had installed a bunch of motion sensors and all the door sensors. It took another evening to put in all the window sensors. Piece of cake.
I also picked up a video surveillance system that can continuously monitor and record video from multiple cameras around the property. That was a bit trickier to install because even with wireless transmission of the video, you need to supply 5 volts to power the cameras. An interesting feature is the ability to monitor the cameras via the internet on computers or a cell phone.
So that’s what I’ve been working on for the last two weeks. I enjoy that kind of geeky tech work.
What I’m not quite comfortable with is this new security mentality around our house. It feels like I’ve enclosed our home in virtual barbed wire or something. What’s next, a metal detector at each entrance? I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon enough, but for now it feels a little icky.
What I’ve done, basically, is to make it undesirable for a common thief to burgle my house. The flashing lights, the cameras, the security decals in windows are all notices to a would-be thief that they would have a much easier time going somewhere else.
In other words…I’ve made it my neighbors’ problem.