HOWTO: Home and neighborhood security

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My family once acquired first-hand experience in home security, neighborhood security, civil & criminal stalking injunctions, the police, the courts and the broader legal system.

Justice prevailed in the end for my family, but it was a harrowing introduction to a facet of society with which I had little experience.


A DropCam turned the tide in our struggle.

Recently, I found myself at a neighborhood security meeting after a spate of break-ins, and I ended up recounting how my old neighborhood banded together, protected itself and cleaned up the block.

To avoid repeating myself, I’m writing down what I learned.

Disclaimer: This is based on our personal experience in my city, and with the U.S. legal system. Please take caution when applying this advice to other crimes and jurisdictions. Consulting a lawyer is advised.

Principles

Rational criminals respond to a well-protected target by choosing a less-well-protected target.

Irrational criminals (such as stalkers with psychoses) may not respond to disincentives, and (in my experience) may even be emboldened by them.

This does not mean you should not take every measure to protect yourself. It means you should be aware.

If you’re facing a repeat aggressor with a psychosis, it is important to involve the mental health unit of your local police force immediately.

Depending on the jurisdiction and the psychosis involved, there may even be resources available to get proper treatment for the individual.

Top tip: Get video evidence

The most important lesson we learned from our experience is that police and courts cannot act in the absence of sufficient evidence.

To make an arrest, police require evidence sufficient to establish “probable cause” that a crime has been committed.

When it comes to evidence, video evidence of a crime is more compelling than eye-witness testimony.

In court, the standards of evidence are even higher, and video footage becomes a potent artifact for establishing the truth.

Obviously, you cannot capture video evidence after the crime has happened, so if you are at all concerned that a crime may happen or be attempted, the time to set up surveillance is now.

DropCams

Compared to traditional wired camera systems, we found it easy and fast set up video surveillance with DropCams:

DropCams are wireless cameras that record over Wi-Fi to DropCam’s site on the internet, so no central DVR installation is necessary.

A DropCam can go anywhere there is power (within reach of a lengthy USB cable) and good Wi-Fi signal.

DropCams have infrared-based nightvision, two-way audio and even optional HD recording.

You can view live or recorded DropCam footage from a phone, and elect to receive alerts for activity.

Two DropCams easily covered all front and back points of entry onto our property.

Camera phones

Camera phones make capturing video evidence easier than ever, but they require quick thinking under high pressure.

If you sense imminent and unavoidable criminal activity, start recording in advance.

Practice pulling your phone from its regular spot (e.g. pocket, purse) and getting it into recording mode as quickly as possible.

Practice doing this repeatedly so that when an adrenaline surge hits, you can still do it without thinking.

A phone holster is good for quicker drawing and so that you can leave it recording (camera-facing out) in the holster as passive surveillance on walks:

Locks

Locks are a straightforward way to increase costs for criminals:

  • Lock your home and car. Always.

  • Don’t leave the keys or valuables in your car.

  • Use a strong bike lock.

  • If you park outside and you have a garage door opener in your car, someone can break into your car to gain access to your garage.

Security systems and alarms

Like locks and signs, security systems cannot stop a criminal, but they will force a criminal to limit the amount of time they spend in your home.

All other factors being equal, a burglar will prefer a target without an active security system to a target with an active security system.

Lights

Outdoor motion-triggered lights provide a mild deterrent to criminals.

Paradoxically, indoor motion-triggered lights provide more protection, especially if a home has large windows and the lights make it visible to those on the outside that an intruder is in the house.

Timers for internal lights are useful for maintaining the appearance of occupance while on vacation, but randomizing the schedule is important: burglars casing a neighborhood may notice the pattern.

Other deterrents

Fences raise the physical cost of gaining access to a property, and raise the difficulty of escape.

It is important to install signs indicating that trespassing is not permitted.

While signs won’t stop a determined criminal, some jurisdictions won’t cite for trespass unless “no trespass”/“private property”-type signs are posted.

When you install a security system, post a sign.

Reporting to the police

Police cannot act unless there is a report: report all crimes.

These should be a separate non-emergency line for the police for reporting crimes. Keep this number on your phone.

When you send in a report, request a case number to use as a reference.

If you don’t get a case number, the officer may not write up a report!

To acquire a stalking injunction, establishing a case history is important.

Policing resources are also allocated according to reported need: unreported crimes don’t influence that need.

In some jurisdictions, police reports can be filed directly online or over the phone.

Working with police

When requesting assistance from the police, remain respectful and factual.

We found that the police were frequently overworked, and have considerable discretion in how they handle cases.

If there is a repeat problem affecting the neighborhood, calling a community meeting at the police station or other meeting place, so that the police can broadcast advice efficiently.

Neighborhood awareness

All neighbors should have contact information for all other neighbors.

If you are leaving town, advise nearby neighbors, so that they can watch for suspicious activity on or near your property.

Seeking a stalking injunction or protective order

If you are dealing with a repeat aggressor, contact a lawyer to seek a protective order of some kind.

These differ substantially by jurisdiction, so only a lawyer will know what is apropriate for your situation and what will be necessary to obtain it.

Some general principles apply; for a court to award an injunction will require evidence, such as:

  • photos or video footage;

  • letters, voicemails or notes from the aggressor;

  • eye-witness testimony; and

  • police reports.

Dates and times of events, to the extent they are available, are also important.

If the court issues an order, it is important to retain a copy of the order to show police when they are called.

Victims advocates

There should be a local victims advocates program run by the jurisdiction.

These advocates can provide advice on navigating options, and they can act as intermediaries between police and prosecutors.

A legal aid clinic may also be available to provide free legal aid for victims.

Victims advocates will know that these resources are available.

Seek counseling

Being victimized takes a physical, emotional and mental toll.

Counseling is a valuable tool. Use it.