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Ask a cop: Are security systems worth the money?

Ask a cop: Are security systems worth the money?

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — People ask me all the time if getting a security system or surveillance system is worth the money. I ask them a few questions to see what they want to get out of having a system.

First and foremost, I tell them that most police departments don't respond to “burglar alarms,” especially in the Salt Lake Valley. They usually look at me curiously and I tell them that the vast majority of alarms are false and tie up the majority of patrol officers' time.

Most police departments don't respond to "burglar alarms," especially in the Salt Lake Valley.

I then ask them what their goal is with the alarm. Do they want to prevent the burglars from getting in and stealing anything, or do they want to try to catch the burglars after the fact — or both? There are fairly cheap and reliable audible burglar alarms that go off as soon as an intruder opens a door or window. Unfortunately, if the burglars know you aren't home, or they're brave, they can disable them quickly and continue to steal everything you own.

You can go with a surveillance system and have cameras positioned to catch the criminals in the act so you can review the recordings later and provide them to police. The problem with these is that they are defeated by a $1 ski mask. The installer can also put them in terrible places where even if they don't have a ski mask on you still can't get a decent picture of their face. This tends to be a common problem with store surveillance. The cameras are terribly positioned and all we get are blurry photos of the suspect or the back of their head. Even if we do get a picture of the suspect, it usually doesn't come with a name unless someone knows them.

On the other hand, some of the home security systems out there are actually getting really good. They feature a combination of audible alarms, intrusion sensors and surveillance systems. They are also combined with a mobile app that sends you an alert and live video of what's happening at your house. I think a system like that is the the best option right now. Unfortunately, those systems are expensive. I plan on getting one when my kids turn into teenagers.

There are fairly cheap and reliable audible burglar alarms, unfortunately, if the burglars know you aren't home, or they're brave, they can disable them quickly and continue to steal everything you own.

After hearing the options, people start asking questions like, 'Can I put some sort of spring-loaded trap on the front doorstep and catapult criminals across the block?' 'Would flame throwers throw off my paint scheme?' 'Do gun ports have curb appeal?' I explain to them that no matter how funny it would be to open up a trap door so a burglar falls into a vat of piranhas, the civil liability is too great. They're not things I could condone.

I instead mention simple things you can do to get potential burglars to move on to the next house. Dogs are a great deterrent and sometimes just a dog warning sign or a doghouse suffice. I've had an empty doghouse in my backyard for years and never had a problem. I especially like the non barking at night and the lack of dog poop in my yard.

You can plant prickly bushes under your ground level and ground accessible windows. Make it difficult to verify whether you are home or not. A lot of criminals like to knock on the front door, supposedly selling something, and then when there is no answer start looking into windows and enter one of them or kick in the back door. You may also want to think about replacing that back door that has a glass window. The easier burglars can get into a house, the better for them.

Don't let newspapers stack up in your driveway. For the younger people, newspapers are a form of media that are printed on paper for a hands-on reading experience. They used to have professional writers who had to be accurate in their reporting. Not like these Internet “reporters” writing opinion articles for entertainment purposes with no experience ... wait ... never mind.

Now that the weather is warm and more people are out at night, it's a good idea to evaluate your residence and see what you can do to tighten it up.

There are other things that you can do to increase your chances of being burglarized: backing up your car in your driveway for a vacation; posting on Facebook how you just got a big-screen TV or are going to Disneyland for a week; leaving your garage open at night or expensive bikes and lawn-care equipment on your front lawn. Some people think it's a good idea to advertise that they have guns in the residence, but be careful. That just seems like advertising that there are guns to steal in the house.

Now that the weather is warm and more people are out at night, it's a good idea to evaluate your residence and see what you can do to tighten it up. Whether it's landscaping, habits or an alarm system, no one likes to be the victim of a burglary. Make sure you document the serial numbers of your items that are harder to replace. Get to know your neighbors because they are the ones calling the police on someone suspicious on your property or in your house.

A favor to ask:

If you know of a police officer who did a great job or a police department that deserves recognition, I would like to hear about it. We get more than our fair share of bad publicity, but I would like to recognize those individuals or deeds that may otherwise go unnoticed. Send me an email at with the circumstances and names and I will add them to my article that runs every other Monday. This article is for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. I do not represent any specific agency or government. Please send questions to

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