Your Interview: Home security advice
Some residents in Markham, Ont., have expressed shock and concern after a woman was killed in apparently random home invasion on Nov. 8.
Bich-Ha Pan, 53, and her husband were shot multiple times after intruders broke into their house looking for cash and jewelry, police said.
The husband managed to make his way to a neighbour's house and was taken to hospital. Pan died of her injuries at the scene.
"The scariest thing is that it could happen to anybody at any time - any random time," local resident Lee Lu told the CBC's Ioanna Roumeliotis.
CBCNews.ca sent questions about home security informed by your discussions to a security expert.
Frank Fourchalk is a licensed locksmith and security consultant who has owned and operated his own security business for 20 years in Surrey, B.C.
He also writes a syndicated newspaper column about security issues, and his work has appeared in numerous publications including the Toronto Star, the Vancouver Province, the London Free Press, and the New York Post. Many of his articles can be found on his website YourHomeSecurity.ca.
You can read Fourchalk's answers below.
CBCNews.ca: Some of our readers have been debating whether dogs are good for home security. Valjoux7750 suggested that thieves generally avoid homes with a barking dog, while Guitarman believes dogs offer a false sense of security. Do you think dogs are good security measures for the home? Are there problems when using a canine guard?
Frank Fourchalk: Home protection dogs are an excellent enhancement to your home's security. These specially-trained animals not only provide extra security for your family and home, but also supply great companionship. It's important to understand the differences between a home-security dog that is specifically trained in personal protection and various categories of security dogs trained in either attack, guard, or watch.
Personal protection dogs protect their handler from harm by other persons. These types of dogs are trained to apprehend a person on command, doing whatever is necessary to control the situation -- no more, no less. This is done by either intimidation or bite work. These dogs protect their handlers by barking and lunging at an aggressor, and snapping without actually biting. Upon their handler's command, they will immediately sit or lie and fall silent.
Protection dogs are not meant to attack -- their purpose is to deter an attacker. However, if provoked, they will shift into a protective instinct and bite. Obedience, sociability and control skills make these dogs an excellent family dog with some obvious restrictions.
Watchdogs are basically four-footed burglar alarms. They alert their handler to the presence of people coming into their territory by barking and acting in an agitated manner. A trained watchdog should bark, threaten and growl until the situation of threat ceases or the dog is commanded to stop by its master.
Attack dogs are canine technicians fulfilling their master's orders. They will sink their teeth generally under two conditions: a master's command or a master's assault. Once an attacker ceases, a true attack dog will let go, no matter how excited the situation might be. These dogs have a switch-on-switch-off disposition, displaying the maximum amount of obedience training, feeling no animosity towards the people they are ordered to attack.
Guard dogs are the deadliest level of canine training. These animals are usually used to guard highly sensitive areas that will not tolerate human intrusion of any kind, areas like nuclear weapons facilities or other government sensitive areas that could result in public danger.
The function of a guard dog is to apprehend and neutralize any human intruder. Once these animals attack they will not stop biting even when the intruder stops resisting. They will only stop attacking when the suspect is motionless. These animals are trained to kill or maim, often attacking the throat or genitals. Because of the viciousness of the guard dog, they will usually only obey one handler.
We, as owners, must understand the responsibility of having a protection dog. Not all breeds are suitable for home protection. Many lack the size, temperament or drive to effectively deter an intruder or attacker. It's best to consult with a professional security-dog trainer, who will be able to advise you before purchasing such an animal.
Q: Commenters have been discussing a person's legal authority when they catch someone breaking into their home. Can you talk about what kind of legal rights homeowners have in this situation? Are they allowed to place a burglar under citizens' arrest?
A person who is attacked may use the amount of force necessary to resist the attack, known as reasonable force. In a "citizen's arrest," you are allowed to arrest somebody if you have seen them commit an indictable offence. You do not necessarily need to have seen the crime committed, but you must have reasonable suspicion to believe that somebody has committed a criminal offence.
Q: What should you do if you suspect a burglar is in your home? How does one safely approach the situation?
Make sure you are proactive and take immediate action if you awake to a burglar in your home. Either lock your bedroom door or barricade it shut. A chair lodged under the doorknob or heavy piece of furniture often works well.
Turn on the lights and contact police. Keep in mind a burglar could cut your phone lines, so always have a cell phone in your bedroom.
Make noise and pump your adrenaline by jumping up and down and shouting you have called the police. The noise will most likely scare away any intruder.
Always make sure you have a direct path of escape by opening a window just in case the bad guy breaks through your barricade.
Stay put until police have knocked on your door and make sure police have checked your crawl space and attic for hiding intruders.
If you wake to an intruder in your room, always feign sleep. Most burglars are not interested in harming you, they just want your expensive belongings.
If on the off chance an intruder approaches you while you're in bed, act quick by throwing any and every object you can find at the intruder and run toward your door. If need be, strike his or her eyes, nose, throat, neck or groin to create the most damage.
Q: In your articles, you've discussed the need for people in this day and age to raise their awareness about security. What steps should Canadians take to do so?
I will tell you that homes built today are not built for break-ins. In other words, anyone can break into a house today, it doesn't take any particular skill, because the builders are not building these houses with security in mind. They're only going for the basic requirements that are needed to pass a building inspection. The downside to this, and it's a real issue out here, is that inferior locks are being put into homes. This goes for condominiums as well -- very weak structures.
There are basically three things that are vitally important when it comes to home security when we're taking about doors in your home. First, you need to have a top of the line deadbolt. Unfortunately, when you go to the stores -- the Home Depots of the world, Rona, stores like that -- a lot of the deadbolts they sell are not great deadbolts. Sometimes people feel cheaper is better when it comes to buying something, but obviously you get what you pay for when you buy a deadbolt.
A good way to tell a good deadbolt is by the weight of it ... if it's got a lot of weight consistency then you know you're getting something made of [a sturdy metal]. A lot of these inferior deadbolts are a tin type of a deadbolt that people buy because they're cheap. They cost about $10 or $11, but unfortunately you're not getting any security.
Second, if you don't have a strong door in the first place you might as well forget about getting a deadbolt to put in the door. If you put a strong deadbolt in a weak door, the door will go. Unless the door is made of a hard wood, for example like an oak, you need to do some reinforcing of the door itself. There are door-reinforcing products out there ...like a metal sleeve that fits around the door like a jacket almost. It holds the door together with a clamp-type of effect. It gives two to three times the strength of a regular door.
Now you need to look at the frame site. If the frame of your door -- in other words, the area that the deadbolt goes into -- isn't strong or supported in some way then everything just collapses and falls apart. You have to look at the frame and see what you've got. If you've got just a thin little piece of wood, you seriously need to do some renovations to that part of your home ... In some cases, you may have to put some metal down the sides of the frames.
Those are the three basics when it comes to door security: the door, the frame, and the deadbolt.
Q: In your opinion, what types of dwellings are most vulnerable to home invasions?
The home invasions I've run into, it's usually houses, not condominiums. Single-dwelling homes are the ones that seem to get hit with home invasions.
Q: Are there parts of the home that are more vulnerable than others?
The front door is very vulnerable ... I seem to find in violent invasions, [burglars] just seem to go through the front door. Especially, if you have double doors -- where one door kind of locks into another one -- these are very weak and they need to be reinforced. A good way to reinforce a double door is to secure the stationary door ... so the manual door locks into a solid door.
Back doors are always bad for break-ins, especially sliding back doors. [Burglars] go around the back and can hide. If the front yard is wide open and you can see it from the front door and there are lots of lights around, things people should be doing, then the burglar will tend to go to the back of the house and look at breaking in through the back because it's usually more isolated.
Windows are a concern because [invaders] can lift windows out of sliding windows. They'll take the actual framing around the window off. So it's important to make sure that all the framing around the window and the actual frame of the window itself that it sits in is actually attached onto the home so they can't just pop it off from the outside and lift the window out. Otherwise, they'll just take the glass and everything right out and get it in that way."
Q: Break-ins often happen when residents are away on holiday. What are some ways homeowners can protect their homes while they're away?
First of all they need to have good lighting. You've got to have excellent lighting around the home, whether it's motion lighting or photo sensor lighting. Burglars don't like light at all.
Second, if you're going away from the home, then you want a lived-in look at your house. So you want to make sure someone's cutting the yard and maintaining the lawn so it looks like someone's home and not on holidays. Have someone shovel the driveway if it's winter. It's always good to have a neighbour park their vehicle in your driveway. And I don't advocate cancelling your mail, I think mail should continue coming to your house. Have a neighbour or relative come and check on the house periodically to make sure everything's nice and neat.
Also, people tend to leave their blinds open. I always say they should be partially closed when they're going away because if your blinds are open, a bad guy can get up there and sneak a look at what's going on.
Another little tip I like to do is called illusion security and is really great for women that live alone or seniors that are a little nervous about living in their home. It's always a good idea to put a pair of men's boots outside the doorstep -- get a pair of size 12 men's boots and run them through the muck and leave them outside the doorstep. The bigger, the better! I know a lot of my customers do that ... it gives the illusion that someone's home.
One more thing: call forward your home phone to your cellphone or a friend's home or their cellphone. Then if someone rings the address then someone's picking the phone up. That's a good idea.
Q: What kind of home security systems do you find to be most effective? Could you provide some tips on finding the most appropriate system?
There are lots of systems and unfortunately, [with all the advertising out there], people do get confused about what to get.
What I always recommend doing is look at a hardwire system, which is run right into the walls, and not a wireless system. Generally speaking, a hardwire system is more reliable than a wireless system.
Always get three quotes and make sure you're dealing with local companies and make sure they're monitoring as local ... local monitoring is always better than out-of-the-area monitoring.
And make sure, of course, that each alarm company shows that they are licensed. I always tells people there are a lot of people who do alarms that do it on the side -- sometimes they'll put an ad in the paper saying they do alarms or something like that -- but it's really important to make sure they're government licensed and insured as well.
Note: This interview has been edited for length.
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